A new children’s book seeks to showcase how Dene life was nearly 70 years ago through the lens of a four-year-old Dene boy.
Ehdaro – or Big Point: A Day in the Life of a Four-Year-Old Dene Boy – was written by father-daughter duo Joachim Bonnetrouge and Karalyn Menicoche, supported by the non-profit organization TakingITGlobal.
Written in both Dene Zhatié and English, the book is based on the memories and experiences of Bonnetrouge as a young Dene boy in the NWT near the banks of the Dehcho.
“That was one of my dreams, to begin to bring out a lot of those values that were in the Dene culture for centuries,” he said.
Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge, Nancy Bonnetrouge, Lakal Sittichinli, and Karalyn Menicoche. Photo: Jennifer Corriero
Bonnetrouge thinks it is important for younger generations to try to understand how things were “back in the old days.”
He hopes the book will “give back and recognize all the families that comprised the Deh Gàh Got’ie and started bringing out all the positives of who we are,” adding: “I really believe we owe it to the young people.”
The book follows Bonnetrouge through experiences he had as a child in a Dene village about 70 years ago. He said he was surprised he could name just about every Elder that lived near him by the time he was just four years old.
“I could describe who they were, what they did, even their characters,” he said.
He recalled events that happened to him as a child, and how fellow residents and Elders would spend time teaching him skills like how to set a net.
The book discusses the nine major families in the area as he grew up, describing families coming together to make small villages to help with food supply in winter.
People travelled by dog team, said Bonnetrouge, and relied on setting nets and moose hunting.
He highlights the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, as parents would normally be out making a living, which allowed children to spend a lot of time with their grandparents.
“I never fully realized but the way I grew up, I was grown up by my relatives,” he said. “That was an extra gift that was given to me.”
A local project
The book’s creation began in October 2019 with support from TakingITGlobal co-founder and executive director Jennifer Corriero.
It was important to those involved that the people who contributed to the project all came from the Fort Providence area.
The original watercolour images were created by Cynthia Landry, a Fort Providence artist.
Karalyn Menicoche, artist Cynthia Landry, and TakingITGlobal’s Jennifer Corriero. Photo: Jennifer Corriero
Menicoche says she was blown away by the drawings, as they gave Landry only the words associated with each page from which to create pictures.
“How she was able to capture each part of the story was very special,” Menicoche said.
Landry says making images to match what Bonnetrouge recalled was easy, as she has always drawn things for children and enjoyed stories from Elders about their past experiences.
“That was kind-of the fun part, how it would look like and being transported back to that time when everything was simple,” she said.
A cultural learning resource
The book was translated into Dene Zhatié by Doris Camsell, a retired teacher from Fort Providence.
Menicoche hopes the book will inspire others to create more cultural resources, especially in the local language.
“Once we bring out little stories like this then the little kids and children will be able to hear it,” she said.
Corriero callled the book “an important initiative and resource for the community.”
The book launch will be streamed virtually for its launch on July 29, with a small gathering in Fort Providence for some invited members of the community.
At the live event, Bonnetrouge says he will be “giving the story back to the community.” An important aspect is ensuring Elders and children are present at the event.
He will read the book in Dene Zhatié, and says he knows it will be an emotional experience.
“It’s really to honour the Elders and also to honour the little children,” he said.
“We have to start learning how to tell the stories. There’s so much that we have, but it just has to come out, and we really owe it to the younger people.”