Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Review of Nicola Campbell's SHI-SHI-ETKO

[Note: This review is used with permission of its author, by Beverly Slapin of Oyate. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission.]

Campbell, Nicola L. (Interior Salish/Métis), Shi-shi-etko, illustrated by Kim LaFave. Groundwood, 2005. 32 pages, color illustrations; grades 1-3

In just four days, young Shi-shi-etko (“she loves to play in the water”) will have to leave everyone she loves and everything she knows—to go to an Indian residential school where, among other things, her name, language and identity will be taken away. Until recently, this was the law and the harsh reality for Native children in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. “Can you imagine a community without children?” Campbell writes in a brief foreword. “Can you imagine children without parents?”

As Shi-shi-etko counts down the days, her large extended family—cousins, aunties and uncles, and Yahyah—fill her with their love, memories, and the strength to endure what they know will happen and what they are powerless to prevent. With her mother, a morning prayer in the creek. With her father, a paddle song in the canoe. With her yahyah, a visit to the woods. A sprig of hemlock, cedar and pine placed into a small deerskin bag.

Too soon, it is time. The cattle truck is waiting. With a prayer and an offering of tobacco, Shi-shi-etko tucks her deerskin bag inside the roots of a big fir tree, to wait for her return. She takes in everything one last time—“tall grass swaying to the rhythm of the breeze, determined mosquitoes, working bumblebees…each shiny rock, the sand beneath her feet, crayfish and minnows and tadpoles…”

LaFave’s rich and evocative digital illustrations, on a palette of mostly reds, complement this sad and gentle story. What happens to Shi-shi-etko at residential school is not told here. It does not have to be. After Shi-shi-etko, read to children Larry Loyie’s As Long as the Rivers Flow, then Maddie Harper’s “Mush-hole”: Memories of a Residential School, then Judith Lowry’s Home to Medicine Mountain, then Shirley Sterling’s My Name Is Seepeetza; all of these that they may know a shameful part of history that must never be repeated.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: Shi-shi-etko and the other books Beverly refers to in the last paragraph of her review are available from Oyate.]

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