Indigenous Authors Use Artwork and Children’s Stories to Preserve and Reincorporate Traditional Culture
There are many important reasons to publish the creative efforts of Indigenous authors. Some books provide an academic exploration into the culture, others offer a personal look into the lived experience of an Indigenous individual, be that through essays, poems or fiction. Regardless, many books by Indigenous authors have the goal of educating the masses while preserving—or, perhaps more accurately, reincorporating—traditional Indigenous cultures.
One interesting way of achieving this goal is through children’s literature. Short, engaging and accessible, children’s stories are a great way for people to engage and connect with Indigenous culture and history.
Accessibility and Reincorporation
Braelyn Cyr is a Mi’kmaq author and visual artist based in New Brunswick. After completing the Aboriginal Visual Arts program at the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC), Cyr went on to publish her first book Mahtoqehs’ Journey, which follows a rabbit—the titular Mahtoqeh—and the friends he meets on his way to the Gathering, an important spiritual event.
“The main focus [of Mi’kmaq Alphabet Book] was not so much the art—including Indigeneity into the art, of course—but for access to the translations at a younger age,” she says. “Once you start introducing the language at a younger age, [children are] more susceptible to learn and continue learning the language past age five.”
Cyr doesn’t believe these stories are just for children, however. She notes that books like Mahtoqehs’ Journey and Mi’kmaq Alphabet can also create accessibility for off-reserve Indigenous people.
“There is also a lot of off-reserve Indigenous people—and there is not a lot of ability to connect when you’re off reserve,” she says. “With those who are on reserve, they have such a wealth of knowledge that needs to be continued.
“The culture really focuses on vocal retellings, so it really revolves around community,” she continues. “These stories help give access to people who might not be right in the community to have a connection to that community. And then, when they do get to connect with people from their community, they have a comment ideology and knowledge.”
Education and Preservation
Theresa Meuse was born and raised in the Bear River First nation. She is the author of several books, including The Sharing Circle (2003), L’Nuk: The Mi’kmaq of Atlantic Canada (2016) and The Gathering (2018).
The main function of Meuse’s stories is bringing the traditional tales of Mi’kmaw people to the masses in a way that is easy to understand. Like Cyr, Meuse believes these stories are for more than children.
“Even though they are ‘children’s stories,’ I’ve had many adults tell me how they learn from them too,” she says. “They’re simplistic and easily read, so anybody can pick it up and read and get the teaching. Learning about our culture—the Indigenous culture—is good for any age.”
Meuse says preserving Indigenous culture is one of the many reasons she writes the books she does but notes that books will never replace the important role of oral tradition.
“The modern day has allowed the opportunity to put some of these stories in writing; the stories in writing are clearly no where near what you hear orally,” she says. “It’s just our language; you can hear what we’re saying and translate it into English, but it is still not quite what we’re saying in Mi’kmaw.”
She says her main reason for writing is to be educational. “I love being able to share a story that is teaching about our culture in a respectful way…giving a little bit of education to [non-Indigenous people] who want to learn about our culture,” she says. “And not only other people who want to learn about our culture, but the newer generation that are coming up. It is a way for them to be able to read it in their own time and expand on it from there. It opens that door for more learning. And I think that is what these stories do.”