By Heather Kuttai
Stories can range from powerful and wise to light and entertaining. One of the greatest strengths in any story is how it can help us understand different points of view. February is Aboriginal Storytelling Month, and although stories are for everyone, this review is specifically for children. Thanks to the teachers and librarians who recommended several: Mrs. Dyck and Mrs. Armistead from McKitrick school in North Battleford and Ms. Hobday in Saskatoon. A list of their favourites appears at the end of this review.
I Am Not A Number, also known as Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii, which is available as a dual language (Nishnaabemwin and Nbisiing dialect as well as English) storybook, is a true story recount from the point of view of 8-year-old Irene and how she was taken away from her family and sent to a residential school. She promises her parents that she will not forget where she came from and who she is, but this proves heartbreakingly difficult. Still, despite being called a number instead of her name and being severely punished for speaking her language, Irene tries to stay true to her promise. Even though she can’t speak her name, family, culture, and language out loud, she keeps them alive inside her heart.
In a similar way, The Song Within My Heart by Métis writer, Dave Bouchard, featuring paintings by renowned Cree artist, Allen Sapp, holds the same promise of keeping stories alive. In it, Sapp’s Nokum, Maggie Sonnias, to whom the book is dedicated, tells him,
“A story is a sacred thing
That should be passed from age to youth
I choose to share my best with you
That you might own and share them too.”
Share a story by an Indigenous author this month with the young people in your life, and thank the teachers who do this and so much more, every day.
Thank you to Monica Goulet for the recommendation to look to the Gabriel Dumont Institute: https://gdins.org/metis-culture/publishing/online-resources-museum-and-archives/
Additional sources can be found at the University of Saskatchewan: https://library.usask.ca/indigenous/holdings/az_list-childrens_authors.php
The Saskatoon Public Library: https://saskatoonlibrary.ca/collections/lists/#indigenous
As always, teachers can find great resources to help them through Concentus Education Foundation, concentus.ca
Here is a list of a few favourite storybooks, as recommended by teachers:
- People of the Buffalo, Little Badger and the Fire Spirit, Riel’s People by acclaimed Saskatchewan author, Maria Campbell
- How the Birch Tree Got its Stripes: and How the Mouse Got Brown Teeth by acclaimed Saskatchewan author Freda Ahenekew
- Missing Nimama by M. Florence and F. Thisdale
- Stolen Words by M. Florence and G. Grimard
- Lila and the Crow by G. Grimard
- My Heart Fills with Happiness by M. Gray Smith and J. Flett
- You Hold Me Up by M. Gray Smith and D. Daniel
- A Day with Yayah by N. Campbell and J. Flett
- When We Are Kind by M. Gray Smith and N. Neidhardt
- The Drum Calls Softly (also with an audio CD) by D. Bouchard, S. Sillier and J. Portrays with singing and drumming by Northern Cree
- Fatty Legs by C. Jordan-Fenton & M. Pokiak-Fenton and L. Amini-Holmes, a book for grades 4-6, (recommended by my son).
- The Song Within My Heart can be purchased at the Allen Sapp Gallery in North Battleford.