Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Alia Jones Reviews nipêhon/I Wait, by Caitlin Dale Nicholson and Leona Morin-Neilson

Eds note: AICL is pleased to share this review of nipêhon/I Wait. The review is by Alia Jones. Her blog is Read It Real Good


nipêhon/I Wait by Caitlin Dale Nicholson and Leona Morin-Neilson is a follow up to their 2008 book Niwechihaw/I Help. This time, instead of a little Cree boy following his grandmother to pick rosehips, we meet a little Cree girl out with her grandmother and mother to pick wild yarrow.

This story is simple and the words are few and powerful and sweet; Nôhkom (grandmother) does something, then her granddaughter follows suit and finally the girl’s mother follows along. Everyone is connected. The story begins with Nôhkom standing outside their motorhome, getting her tools and bags ready to head out for the day. The little girl and her mother wait. I love how the author breaks her storytelling format to add some humor; after they pray, Nôhkom picks yarrow and granddaughter picks yarrow...but mom? The illustrations show us that she takes a moment to softly blow a bunch of yarrow flowers and then they wait for her!

Caitlin Dale Nicholson’s acrylic illustrations are thoughtful and gorgeous. I love how they dominate the page, with the story’s text taking up only a small space at the bottom. Her illustrations bring the reader along with the family on a warm summer day, where the greens and yellows of the grasses are vibrant against the blue sky. I really like how we can see the canvas underneath the paint; I think it gives the illustrations a really nice raw charm.

Every block of text in the story, from the jacket flaps to the acknowledgements at the back of the book, are written first in romanized Cree (Y dialect), then in Cree syllabics and finally in English. Niwechihaw/I Help did not include Cree syllabics. The inclusion of syllabics in this book is wonderful; it’s great for Native and non-Native kids to see. It’s also an important addition for young (and old!) Cree language learners.

nipêhon/I Wait is a very pretty celebration of Cree womanhood, family and joy! The little girl learns traditional ways from her elders all while having fun on a beautiful summer day (there’s a cute puppy too!). There’s even a recipe in the back of the book for yarrow tea. While preparing to write this review, I did some research on yarrow and enjoyed some tea with my own mother. Here is some of what I learned about yarrow and I encourage you to learn about it too:

Yarrow (Wâpanewask) is a traditional medicine with many, many uses; it’s well known as women’s medicine and is good for cleaning the blood. The flowers can be dried then crushed into powder and used as trap bait for lynx or marten. It’s also used as a smudge to keep mosquitoes away. [1] The whole plant can be used from the  roots to the leaves; chewed roots help relieve muscle sprains or strains and the leaves, when placed on wounds, can stop bleeding. Yarrow tea treats headaches, fever, hemorrhoids, nausea, colds, influenza, and more. [2]

Thank you to author/illustrator Julie Flett for sharing with me a memory tied to sweetgrass and for the Cree and Métis resources she shared as well. I recommend watching this beautiful short film created by her cousin Shannon Letandre called Nganawendaanan Nde'ing (I keep them in my heart):

Like the family in nipêhon/I Wait, Shannon spends time with her family (her grandfather in particular) collecting traditional medicine (weekay). In the film, she reflects on how she keeps her culture, family and traditions with her though she no longer lives at home, on her family’s land.

I hope you’ll take time to enjoy the beautiful book nipêhon/I Wait, a cup of warm yarrow tea and the lovely short film Nganawendaanan Nde,'ing (I keep them in my heart).

[1] Sagow Pimachiwin Plants and Animals Used by Mikisew Cree First Nation for Food,
Medicine and Materials: Public Version (Winnipeg, MB: Centre for Indigenous
Environmental Resources), 58.

[2] Belcourt, Christi, Medicines to Help Us: Traditional Métis Plant Use (Saskatoon, SK:
Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2007), 65.

1 comment:

Ava Jarvis said...

This is all very beautiful, and makes me happy to see.

By the way, folks, do watch the short film; it's a little over 6 minutes, and the audio is a bit quiet so turn up the volume. Everything is heartfelt and the story culminates in a final shot that is subdued yet powerful in its comfort.