With the publication of Sharing Our Truths, Henry and Eileen Beaver have completed a uniquely northern series of books celebrating all nine of the territory’s Indigenous languages.
The series was started by Mindy Willett, who wanted to make sure her students and their languages and cultures were represented in print.
“I was a teacher in Kugluktuk," Willett said, remembering conversations from 20 years ago, "and the kids used to ask me, ‘How come there are no beautiful books about me?’”
Willett looked everywhere, she said, and the only northern children's books she could find weren’t representative of present life in the North. So she started a non-fiction series entitled This Land Is Our Storybook.
Willett explained the books are a mix of contemporary life and storytelling.
“Each of the books have a component of the traditions that are deeply important to people … but they also have wage economy and what the communities are like and what they’re up to," she said.
“You don’t have to look very hard to find an amazing story. This place is filled with wonderful storytellers.”
Sharing Our Truths
The Beavers’ book focuses on them teaching four of their grandchildren about things like the Salt Mountains near Fort Smith, beaver hunting, putting up a tipi, and storytelling.
“We’re really glad [the book] came out, because we wanted to show the culture side of it – the things young people actually should try to learn – because it’s something that’s going to help them in the future,” said Henry at the book's launch, at the Yellowknife Book Cellar on Saturday afternoon.
“I think it's something that hopefully will change the attitude of not only the young people, but the grandparents or the parents teaching their children, to continue to look at the land and maybe take them out more often.
“I think that's one of the things that we try to instil in this book: that it’s important to have that connection," he said.
Eileen said their grandchildren are excited the book is out and will hold their own book signing at their school, in Edmonton, in December. While other Cree children will see their language and culture reflected in the book, the Beavers’ grandchildren will literally see themselves.
“[The book] didn’t seem real to them until they were holding it,” said Eileen, noting their grandchildren had only seen proofs of the pages on a computer until the book came in the mail. “They’re really excited because … it made them feel accomplished.”
Willett said people who want to buy any nine of the books can visit the Yellowknife Book Cellar or have the Book Cellar mail them a book. The series is also available in bookstores across the country.