Indigenousness in Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming

Some people may wonder about the inclusion of Indigenous images, references to objects, and themes in Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming. Here are my thoughts and intentions related to their use in this picture book.

I moved to northern Alberta several decades ago. There, I quickly became friends with several Indigenous people in high school. I am still good friends with some. In addition, a family member married an Indigenous person; therefore, I now have Indigenous relatives.

I have spoken with a number of my close friends and relatives about the inclusion of mukluks, birch baskets, and other Indigenous things in the stories. They are thrilled! In fact, some have sent me photos of themselves reading the book and enjoying it. Because the illustrations depict a culturally-diverse family, they often see themselves in the books. Many such families live in northern Alberta.

In discussions with the illustrator, I asked that there be a culturally diverse family included, as it was most honest to me. It was her decision to have a White male and an Indigenous female as the parents. Some families have an Indigenous male and White female… there are any number of types and configurations of families.

Personally, I believe that all people are of one race– the human race. However, some (or many) Indigenous peoples prefer to identify with their ancestral tribe, their mother-tongue, their heritage, one side of their family, or in some other way. It makes their lives richer and creates a grounding identity.

In any stories I write which contain images and themes from a specific culture, they are recreated in consultation with my family and friends, and from personal experience.

BANNOCK

A good friend of mine gave me her bannock recipe. It is much like the baking soda biscuits I knew as a child. However, my friend’s recipe includes a little sugar and is baked in a baking sheet with sides which produces biscuits like squares.

BIRCH BARK BASKETS

A dear friend of mine loves to create practical and art objects with components of nature. She lives in the Fort Chipewyan area. She makes birch bark baskets.

MUKLUKS

I had a pair of mukluks! I loved them, but I could only wear them when it was before zero outside. Otherwise, they are too hot. The mukluks in the story have beading in a flower pattern specific to the Cree of northern Alberta. A close friend of mine whose family is from Elizabeth Settlement near Cold Lake recognized the pattern while she read the book.

FISH DRYING

Yes, some people still dry fish to preserve it. My family puts fish into a smoker, but we prefer to eat it fresh. The Indigenous people we met in Wood Buffalo National Park fed White Fish to their dogs because that type of fish is quite boney. Other common types, such as Walleye (also known as Pickerel), and Northern Pike (also called Jack Fish), are usually eaten fresh, smoked and dried.

VENISON STEW

My family hunts. Additionally, many Indigenous people also harvest wild food. Hunting is a heavily regulated practice in Alberta for non-Indigenous people, while Indigenous people may hunt year-round providing they are Band members. People who are decedents of Indigenous people groups may apply for Band membership. They complete an ancestral family tree, provide their I.D., and the Band determines if the applicant qualifies for Band membership.

In addition, the children pick berries in the story. My family also likes to harvest wild berries. They are plentiful along the trails and wilderness places in the Wood Buffalo region and many other locations in Alberta. They provide plentiful food to animals as well as people.

TRAPS

The story refers to the family checking “traps.” Friends of my family had a trapline west of Fort McMurray. While I was working as a freelance writer for a newspaper, I interviewed the guy who did the actual trapping and cleaning of the furs. He sold them to a fur dealer who in turn sold the fur to clothing manufacturers. It was interesting to learn about the process. There were several other traplines in the vicinity. Trapping is a heavily regulated practice which involves licensing, permits, leasing of land, and many other concerns. The government issues permits for trapping in consultation with wildlife biologists who determine the populations of wildlife. The wildlife biologists want to ensure that all species have healthy populations. When there is an overabundance of animals, more permits are issues. This is similar to the way that game licenses are issued.

ELDERS

Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming refers to elders. Elders are highly respected in Indigenous groups. Bands and associations regularly hold Elder Teas and other events to honour the elders among them. They are revered for their wisdom and experience, and provide comfort and advice to those who are younger.

WINGED CHILDREN

The whimsical scenes in the centre of the stories were created by the illustrator. Interestingly, I previously wrote in a blog post about how I can fly in my dreams. Also, many Indigenous people are spiritual, whether connected to their traditional beliefs or Christians, or any number of other faith groups. As with all people, there are no stereotypes. People make their own decisions based on their own preferences and experiences.

DOG SLEDDING

The family in the story uses a dog sled. When my husband and I visited Wood Buffalo National Park and camped at Dog Head Point west of Fort Chipewyan, there were a lot of ferrel dogs around. They were harmless, but they did get into our food stores. Many people still use dog sleds and it was a traditional means of transportation. The dogs are well equipped to live in the cold weather with their thick fur coats.

As a freelance writer, I interviewed a dog musher who lives just outside Fort McMurray: McMurray Mush. This musher races her dog team in events around the country. She takes great care of her animals; they are like her family members.

WHERE IS THE CANOE?

There are many commercial images associated with Indigenous people such as canoes and inukshuks. These types of images are used for advertising purposes by many associations, including the Olympics. This is one of the ways that Indigenous icons and stereotypes are created and exploited. This storybook does not have a canoe not because some Indigenous people don’t use canoes– in fact, my Indigenous relatives have one– but because many of them do not, I chose to not allow one in the book. In fact, the further north I have travelled, the more often I saw Indigenous people using hand-built wooden skiffs. My good friend, the artisan who makes birch bark baskets, uses a jet boat with her family to travel from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray and back on the Athabasca River. Many others do, too.

WINTER CAMPING, QUINZEES OR IGLOOS?

I don’t know if most Indigenous people camp in the winter now, or if quinzees are of Indigenous invention, but some of my family members camp outside in the winter. Also, my kids learned how to make quinzees from other kids. I don’t know what colour their skin was because that isn’t the thing that I pay attention to about people. I usually notice if they are friendly and kind.

Happy Reading!

DB

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