Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Edited by Hope Nicholson, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 2 has stories from several people who you may know from previous AICL reviews of their work.

In particular, I'm thinking of Richard Van Camp. Some of you may recall that he is Tlicho Dene from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories of Canada. For this review, I'm focusing on his "Water Spirits." Set in Yellowknife, the story opens with a science teacher talking to his class. (Bonus: the illustrator, Haiwei Hou, modeled the teacher after Richard, which was a surprise to Richard when he saw the illustrations.) They're about to head out to a gold mine where the tour guide will take them deeper into the mine than most tours go. There are cultural and spiritual aspects to "Water Spirits" but I am focusing on the destructive aspect of mining.

As we see the bus full of kids on its way to the mine, there is some snark and banter. One kid wishes the mine was still open. He thinks it would be a great summer job, and he kind of doesn't like the history that their teacher shares, en route to the mine. That history? That the tour guide's family has lived in that area for hundreds of years before the mine opened in 1948.

On the tour, the students learn that the mine brought an end to so much. Wildlife left the area. The river was polluted and Indigenous people couldn't fish from it anymore. A student asks if the technology and jobs from the mine brought other opportunities that made life easier for them, but the guide won't take that bait. He replies with more information:
"This giant mine no longer operates because it is one of the most contaminated groundwater sites in Canada. For 50 years, almost 240,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide waste was released into the ground and water where it remains."
The students are surprised. "Arsenic?" they ask, puzzled. "Didn't the gold get dug out with hammers?" they say.

That--for me--is a crucial moment in this story. Children's books, textbooks, television shows, and movies about gold mining perpetuate an image of some old guy with a pan, using it to find gold in streams of water. Others show men with pick axes, working in dark shafts. The reality, though, of how gold was taken from the earth is much darker than that. At that point in the story, the guide takes the students into a very dark tunnel full of pipes and tells them about the "roasting" method of extracting gold from rock.

Stories that present mining--accurately--are vitally important. But here's the status quo: Instead of the truth, kids get inaccurate romantic nonsense about heroic self-made Americans who toughed it out, staking claims and panning for gold. That nonsense is even worse when we consider what happened to Native people who were "in the way" of those get-rich expeditions. For more on this, you can take a look at Exterminate Them: Written Accounts of Murder, Rape, and Enslavement of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush by Clifford E. Trafzer and Joel R. Hyer.

In addition to Van Camp's "Water Spirits" there are many other excellent stories. Elizabeth LaPensée's story, "They Who Walk as Lightning" is also about protecting water. Erika Wurth (author of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend) wrote about Moonshot and featured this panel from LaPensée's story:

If you are following Native news about our opposition to pipelines, that image will remind you, perhaps, of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

Here's the Table of Contents for Moonshot: 

Scanning it you'll see familiar names--and names you should look out for if you're interested in writing by Native people. And if you haven't already gotten a copy of Volume I, do that, too, when you order Volume 2.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Highly Recommended: THE WATER WALKER written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson

Often, people write to ask me for books about Native people who are activists, or who might be involved in, or organizing, actions of some kind to protect their nations or homelands. 

Joanne Robertson's book is one I'm happy to recommend. 

Robertson's The Water Walker, published in 2017 by Second Story Press, is about Josephine Mandamin. Here's a photo of the two women, at a recent event promoting the book:

Photo source is Anishinabek News: 
This collaboration is significant. Robertson and Mandamin worked together on the book. It is the epitome of #OwnVoices. Robertson joined Mandamin on walks that took place in 2011, 2015, and 2017. Here's the description, from the publisher's website:
The story of a determined Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin and her great love for Nibi (water). Nokomis walks to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi for future generations, and for all life on the planet. She, along with other women, men, and youth, have walked around all the Great Lakes from the four salt waters, or oceans, to Lake Superior. The walks are full of challenges, and by her example Josephine challenges us all to take up our responsibility to protect our water, the giver of life, and to protect our planet for all generations.
Robertson turned Mandamin's work into an engaging story that invites children to learn about her activism. Told from the point of view of a child talking about her grandmother, Nokomis, we read about how Nokomis gives thanks, every day, for water. 

While she is thankful for water, she doesn't yet have the awareness of what might happen to it. One day, an ogimaa (Ojibwe for leader or chief) told her that water is at risk. He asked her, "What are you going to do about it?" Looking around, she understood what the ogimaa meant. Water was being wasted and polluted by people who didn't seem to understand the ramifications of their treatment of life-giving water. Weeks passed as his words and her observations weighed on her. Then one night she had a dream. The next day, she put a plan into action. 

See that? She called her sister, and kwewok niichiis (women friends). I'm not Ojibwe, but my heart swells seeing those Ojibwe words in this book! I see them all the time from Ojibwe friends and colleagues on social media. And clearly, these women are in a modern day kitchen. I love that, too. This story is centered in the present day. None of that silly or romantic nonsense in this book! That's a huge plus, too. 

The action they took? Walking, with Nokomis at the head of the line, carrying a pail of water and a Migizi Staff. 

They walked each spring, for seven years. That's serious and hard work--made accessible to kids by sneakers. The kwewok niichiis all wore sneakers as they walked. Every spring, they'd set out again. They started in 2003, walking around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Sneakers wear out, as kids know. As they read (or as they're read to) The Water Walker, they'll enjoy the pages where the sneakers appear in text or illustration.

As they walked, they prayed and sang and "left semaa in every lake, river, stream, and puddle they met." I'm pointing out that Robertson says, simply, that they left semaa (sacred tobacco) as they walked. It is a significant action, but Robertson doesn't give details. I really appreciate that! Some things need not be shared with readers. In an #OwnVoices story, we know what to--and what not to--disclose. 

In the next pages, we learn that Nokomis spoke to a lot of people about the walking. She was on TV, in the newspapers, on the radio, and in videos

In 2010, women of other nations joined Nokomis and her kwewok niichiis. They brought water from the oceans. The Water Walker ends with a page much like one from early in the book, where Nokomis is outside giving thanks. The last words in the story part of the book are the ones in the question the ogimaa had asked Nokomis in 2003. This time, though, the words are directed at the reader. What are we going to do about what his happening to water? 

On the final page, there's a glossary and pronunciation guide of the Ojibwe words used in the story, and there's additional information about Josephine Mandamin. Readers are invited to write to her, telling them what they're doing to protect water. 

The Water Walker is an extraordinary book. I highly recommend it and hope that Second Story gives us more like it.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Recommended: NIMOSHOM AND HIS BUS by Penny M. Thomas

Several people wrote to tell me about Nimoshom and His Bus. Due out in 2018 from Highwater Press, the story is by Penny M. Thomas (Cree-Ojibway background), with illustrations by Karen Hibbard.

If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know that we're always delighted by books by Native writers--especially ones set in the present. Books like Nimoshom and His Bus provide Native children with mirrors that non-Native children find in abundance. When I was a kid, a yellow school bus came onto our reservation and took the bunch of us Nambé kids to school. I rode the bus for years and years. I remember one driver. Eddie. Because he wore a big cowboy hat. It would have been so cool to have one who would have used Tewa words when we got on the bus, or, when we got a bit rambunctious!

That's Nimoshom on the cover. Nimoshom is a Cree word that means "my grandfather." On each page, we see him engaging with children and using Cree words. "Tansi" he says, when he greets them. Of course, that means hello. The straightforward text is terrific. Hibbard's illustrations perfectly capture the warmth and joy of the kids on that bus, and the guy who drives their bus.

I highly recommend Nimoshom and His Bus! It'd be a simple thing to use other Native words in addition to--or instead of--the Cree words in the book. In fact... When it comes out in 2018, I'm going to send a copy of this to the Tewa teacher at the school that serves Nambé kids!