Julie-Ann André and Mindy Willett, photographs by Tessa Macintosh,
We Feel Good Out Here
Land is Our Storybook Series, Fifth House, 2008.
We Feel Good Out Here documents the lives of Julie-Ann André, her husband and their two daughters, who live in Canada’s Northwest Territories, up near the Arctic Ocean. At age 7, Julie-Ann was taken from her Gwichya Gwich’in family and transported against her will to a residential school. “Life at the residential school townized me so much that I was no longer comfortable in my own culture or with who I was. I wasn’t allowed to speak my language or see my family. When I grew older and went home, I felt completely out of place and lost.”
André’s adult life has been an all-out effort to reconnect with her First Nations culture and land. Tessa Macintosh’s marvelous photographs show André with her family, learning again to trap and fish, to make camp in the snowy bush, and to speak their native language. Julie-Ann is studying business management in Inuvik, preparing for a career in cultural tourism of her tribal lands, so the family is also shown having breakfast (scrambled eggs and oranges) at their home in town. Daughters Amanda and Anna-May are pictured at the Inuvik pool, a fabulous-looking place, gleefully trying out fins and goggles. These beautiful children are terrific poster kids for the wholesome Gwich’in life their parents are re-creating for them.
We see the girls walking in snowshoes, setting a trap, sitting on a bed of woven spruce boughs to make a fire in their summer camp tent. Young readers learn of tribal respect for animals trapped by native methods, the use of their fur, their Gwichya Gwich’in names. A land use plan and conservation zone designed to protect Gwich’in territories is described (André and her father are consultants on the development plan.). André quotes her father telling a story he learned from his elders of how Atachuukaii defeated the giant Ch’ii choo in the Ts’ii deii days. Traditional regional medicines are depicted. At the back of the book is a map of the land use plan with a glossary of key terms.
It’s clear how good André’s family feels “out here” in their native land. It’s easy to imagine young readers wanting to visit them! Part of the vibrant The Land is Our Storybook series about the diverse lands and cultures of Canada's Northwest Territories, We Feel Good Out Here inspires, educates and raises consciousness in an appealing text and photo format. Willett, André and Macintosh’s book is a great precursor to André’s career in cultural tourism. It’s also a wonderful contribution to First Nations literature for children.