Archive for the ‘Canadian First Nations culture’ Category

Poetry Friday: The Elder Project

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I was recently at the League of Canadian Poets annual conference held in Saskatoon.  There I met poetic entrepreneur extraordinaire, Wendy Morton.  Morton is widely known in Canada for her Random Acts of Poetry work which she started almost a decade ago.  “Poetry is the shortest distance between hearts,” believes Morton, and indeed her current work involving children interviewing their elders certainly proves that point.

The Elder Project, as it is called, had First Nations children in B.C. interview their elders, record their stories in short pithy lines of free verse, and then have their poems published in a booklet.  Both children and elder benefited greatly from the interchange.  In Xe’Xe (Cowichan Valley School District #79 and Wendy Morton, 2012), it’s striking how such simple and direct lines as “I went to Kuper Island/and Mission City residential schools/I was homesick and lonely./I cried myself to sleep.” can affect the reader.  Some of the descriptions of the food and conditions the Elders experienced were also revealing.  “I was born in the berry trails.” says one Elder.  “We ate fish, deer meat, soup,/fried and baked bread./We played in our canoe.” said another.

Morton, in partnership with First Nations educators, has conducted this project with several groups of children and so far, five books have been put together.  The books are published locally and distributed amongst the students and families involved in the project.   A B.C. credit union assisted in financing the publication of the books.  The Elder Project is indeed a unique initiative and Morton is enthusiastic about it.   As she says in a recent Tyee article about the project, “I’ve got a lot of books, so I don’t care about having a book anymore. All I want to do is do this.  I want to use my skills as a poet to get these stories into the world, and to give these kids a sense of self and elders a sense of pride, I just want that more than anything.”

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Amy at The Poem Farm.

Week-end Book Review: A Stranger at Home by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, as told to author Christy Jordan-Fenton; illustrated by Liz Amini-Holms

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, as told to author Christy Jordan-Fenton; illustrated by Liz Amini-Holms,
A Stranger at Home
Annick Press, 2011.

Age 8-12

A Stranger at Home, sequel to the authors’ award-winning 2010 Fatty Legs, is the story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s return to her Inuit family in northwest Canada after two years in a Catholic boarding school, where she learned English, ate different foods, and became unrecognizable even to her own mother. A collaboration between Margaret and her daughter-in-law, Christy Jordan-Fenton, the book captures the process of re-entry faced by anyone returning from life-changing experiences in another culture. In this book, those challenges are framed in terms of losses to the Inuit community when young people are educated in faraway boarding schools.

Unlike aboriginal Australians, who underwent similar difficulties, Margaret was not forced to leave her home on Banks Island. In fact, her father, who also had a boarding school education, had voiced reservations about her desire to leave home and learn English. He understood better than his wife how hard the transition back home would be for their daughter. Time does its healing for Margaret; she is aided by observing the alienation of another outsider in the village and by her growing compassion for his situation. In the end, she bravely agrees to return to the school to accompany her younger sisters so that she can protect them and ease their adjustment to the wider world.

Liz Amini-Holms has done the story a great service with her evocative paintings of the Inuit people in their traditional clothing and native landscape. Her soft, dark palette and slightly blurry images give an exotic yet emotionally intimate feel to the scenes she illustrates. Margaret’s family photographs add further visual documentation in an appealing presentation. Each is referenced alongside the relevant text by a small icon and a page number that indicates the corresponding full-size image in the back matter. Also included are a map of the Northwest Territories and brief biographies of the authors and illustrator. Where the text uses Inuit words, a colored box at the bottom of the page defines the term.

Young readers will find Margaret’s story both historically informative and heartbreakingly poignant.

Charlotte Richardson
November 2011

The Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge (Canada)~ Entries Accepted Until March 31st

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

The Historica-Dominion Institute, the largest independent organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship, is calling on Aboriginal youth between the ages of 14-29 to explore a moment or theme in Aboriginal history through the literary and visual arts. The Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge is celebrating seven years of the Writing Challenge and the first year of the new expansion to Arts. Participants have a chance to earn national recognition and win cash prizes and a trip for two to a Canadian city for a special Awards Ceremony attended by Aboriginal leaders, writers and artists.

“The Institute encourages young emerging Aboriginal artists from coast to coast to coast to participate in the new expanded Challenge this year, ” says Jeremy Diamond, Managing Director of The Historica-Dominion Institute’s National Office. “We anticipate receiving wonderful and creative submissions, in both writing and arts, and celebrating Aboriginal achievement once again!”

Deadline for submissions is March 31st. The stories and artwork will be assessed by two impressive juries made up of some of Canada’s most celebrated Aboriginal leaders, writers and artists.

The Canadian Aboriginal Writing Challenge was born in 2005 out of the success of Our Story: Aboriginal Voices on Canada’s Past published by Doubleday Canada in which nine leading Aboriginal authors from across the country, contributed a short fictional story about a defining moment in Aboriginal history. Since then, the Challenge has quickly become the largest and most recognizable essay writing competition in Canada for Aboriginal youth and has earned large scale support from the Aboriginal Arts and Literary community. More than 1,000 emerging Aboriginal writers from every province and territory in Canada have submitted essays to the Challenge since 2005. Click on the Winners Gallery to read the past winners’ stories and follow along with this year’s Challenge here on Facebook.

Children's Theatre: Kids Fringe

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

My hometown of Winnipeg is in the throes of its annual Fringe Theatre Festival which has a great component called Kids Fringe.  Today I was lucky enough to get tickets for a great show called Four Wishes by Gunstwork Puppet Mask Theatre Four Wishes tells the story of four men of the Wabanaki Nations and the four wishes they are granted by Gluskabe, their protector.  Puppeteer Michael Gunst performed this story(adapted from a story by Joseph Bruchac) with his hand-made puppets in a charming and engaging fashion that completely captivated my daughter and I.  Gunst hails from Colorado and tours his shows to schools and festivals, so if you ever get a chance to see this performance, I highly recommend it!

Books at Bedtime: The Stories of Richard Van Camp

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Whats the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About HorsesA few weeks ago, I attended a reading by First Nations authors at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission session held in Winnipeg (which I also posted about recently) and was introduced to the stories of the engaging and entertaining First Nations writer, Richard Van Camp.  I immediately sought out his books at the library and came home with What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses, illustrated by George Littlechild (Children’s Book Press, 1998) and A Man Called Raven (Children’s Book Press, 1997).

As soon as I got these books, I read them to my daughter and she was completely taken in by them.  She was struck especially by the lesson conveyed in A Man Called Raven wherein a mysterious man teaches some boys not to be cruel to ravens. She also thought the books were very colorful and indeed, George Littlechild’s illustrations are very vibrant.  A week after we read the books together (and we’d been to the zoo and seen a crane which I pointed out to my daughter was the bird in the famous Japanese folktale, the Crane Wife), my daughter kept asking me for the ‘crane’ book.  What crane book?  I wondered.  The one we read before, she said.  I was puzzled until I finally clued in that she was referring to A Man Called Raven, except that she’d mixed up the birds!  That was a funny moment in mixing up symbols!  However culturally disparate, both stories do feature shape shifting birds.  I’ll not tell you anymore though; you can seek out the stories yourselves!

For more about Richard Van Camp, you can check the PaperTigers website here in Personal Views and here for an interview with Richard.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

A while back, I wrote a Books at Bedtime  blog post about a book called Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell.  This book was about a young aboriginal boy who is taken away from his family to go to a residential school.  The history of residential schools in Canada is long and painful.  The impact of this education on young vulnerable aboriginal children was devastating and continues to affect many of the survivors today.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was formed by the Canadian government to address the situation.  Its mandate is to learn about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about the schools and their impact on aboriginals in Canada.

The Commission will enact its mandate through various national events, one of which has begun here in my hometown of Winnipeg.  Tonight, aboriginal authors and storytellers will gather to talk about the residential school experience in an evening of readings and discussion called “Writing Truth, Imagining Reconciliation.”  Although the event is not so much for children as about them under a particular and alienating system of education, it is of relevance to anyone who seeks to acknowledge and redress one of Canada’s historical wrongs.  For its part, PaperTigers has highlighted the Canadian First Nations community and its writings in its April-May 2010 issue.  Do check it out!

Guest Post: David Bouchard on "Seven Sacred Teachings"

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Seven Sacred Teachings by David Bouchard with Dr Joseph Martin, illustrated by Kristy Cameron, flutes and music by Swampfox (More Than Words, 2009)If you haven’t read our recent interview with Métis author David Bouchard yet, then head on over there right away! In the interview we talked only a little bit about his recent book Seven Sacred Teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman (More Than Words, 2009), which he co-wrote with Dr Joseph Martin, is stunningly illustrated by Kristy Cameron, and has an accompanying DVD with music by Swampfox, and for which Swampfox created seven flutes out of seven different woods, each in a different key.

David considers Seven Sacred Teachings to be one of his most important works to date. The seven teachings (Humility, Honesty, Respect, Courage, Wisdom, Truth, and Love) are universal to First Nations peoples, and are the strongest link between First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities. Read on to find out more, for in this post David explains in more depth the background to this fascinating and ambitious project, which brought together six languages: English, French, Ojibwe, South Slavey, Bush Cree and Chipewyan.

The Aboriginal people in Canada have had to deal with many negative experiences over the past century and more: but one of the golden, shiny spots from coast to coast in our country is the spirituality that remains intact. If you go into any one of our schools, any school from coast to coast in Canada with Aboriginal kids, you’ll see posters or writings on the walls that refer to these teachings. Different people call them different things. Among the Ojibwe people they’re called the Grandfather Teachings, amongst the Lakota and Dakota people (who used to be called the Sioux), they’re called the teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman. Among the Dene of the north and their cousins the Navaho in America, they call them the Dene Laws.

But the teachings are very, very (more…)

Aboriginal Storytelling and Writing

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

“The oral traditions of the Aboriginal people taught them from an early age the art of listening and remembering”, says Nyoongar Elder Rosemary van den Berg, PhD, of the south-west people in Western Australia, in a paper titled “Aboriginal Storytelling and Writing”. Among other things, her paper explores the different roles storytelling played/plays in traditional times and contemporary times, and talks about the legacy of traditional stories transcribed into the written word. To illustrate the latter, she uses as an example a story about the Nyoongar sacred serpent (the Wagyl or Waakal) told by two different generations and gender of Nyoongar people. I encourage you to read the paper and the two versions of the story (they’re not long).

The first version is by a Whadjuck/Balardong man who was the Keeper of the Stories, the late Mr Tom Bennell; the second is by a Nyoongar woman, Mrs Dorothy Winmar. Dr van den Berg notes about the two versions that she transcribed herself: “Tom Bennell, The Keeper of the Stories, gives an in-depth, very detailed telling. His generation of Nyoongars were more attuned to their old people and lived more closely with the Dreamtime stories that were a part of Nyoongar life back in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century. Mrs Winmar’s version is more contemporary, makes more use of the English language and uses less Nyoongar words.” Then she goes on to ask: “Whose story is more authentic?”

Questions of authenticity in relation to literature are often tricky. In this case, it’s tempting to (more…)

Winchester Galleries Presents "David Bouchard – Our Author and His Collection"

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to head over to our main PaperTigers site and read our interview with Canadian Métis author and literacy advocate David Bouchard. David has produced more than 35 picture-books for readers of all ages, as well as two guides on reading for parents and educators. An erstwhile teacher and school principal, he is particularly concerned with Aboriginal-related issues and is a sought-after speaker for school presentations and on topics of reading and literacy.  Earlier this month David was named to the Member of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor, “for his contributions as an author of children’s books and an advocate who has championed the cause of reading and writing, and who has shared his pride as a member of the Métis community through his stories.”

Winchester Galleries, located in Victoria, BC, Canada, is currently hosting an exhibition entitled David Bouchard – Our Author and his Collection. Throughout his career, David has worked with over two dozen accomplished artists, the likes of Allen Sapp, Michael Lonechild and Jim Poitras, and has amassed a diverse and interesting collection of fine art.  Paintings from David’s collection, as well as autographed copies of his best-selling books will be on exhibit and sale at Winchester Galleries until May 1st. Here’s a video from the opening night:

Lessons from Mother Earth

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Lessons from Mother EarthFirst published in 2002 and recently reissued in paperback by Groundwood Books, Lessons from Mother Earth by Elaine McLeod and illustrated by Colleen Wood seems to be a perfect book to share with kids on Earth Day. I haven’t read the book yet (am about to head to the library to look for it), but judging by this recommendation (originally posted to Amazon) by librarian Laurie von Mehren at the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma, Ohio, it sounds lovely. It seems to convey two very important aspects of aboriginal cultures: a deep respect for nature and the role of elders as culture bearers:

This book by an author born in the Yukon and a member of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation is about respecting and caring for the planet. Five-year old Tess visits her grandmother’s mountain cabin and learns about her garden, which consists of nature itself. The first rule grandma teaches Tess is: “You must always take good care of our garden.” Following that, she tells Tess to say a prayer of thanks while picking fruits and vegetables; to harvest just enough and at the right time; and to take care not to trample the vegetation or leave rubbish behind. For dinner, they gather wild edibles-lamb’s-quarters, dandelion shoots, and blueberries.

Wood’s realistic yet impressionistic watercolors are glowing and lush, with dabs of color for close-ups of berries and woodland animals. This book would work particularly well for Earth Day or as part of a nature/ecology unit.

Lessons from Mother Earth is also mentioned in Paul De Pasquale’s article recently reprinted on PaperTigers, Imagining Home in Children’s Picture Books by Canadian Aboriginal Authors.