How Frog Brought Winter, a new children’s book celebrating the Tłı̨chǫ language and culture, is now available at Yellowknife’s Book Cellar.
The story is the second in a series created by the YK1 school district to honour Indigenous knowledge-keepers and revitalize Indigenous languages. The first, How Raven Returned the Sun, was published in English and Sahtúot’ı̨nę Yatı (North Slavey) in 2016.
How Frog Brought Winter was originally told by Tłı̨chǫ Elder Joe Lazare Zoe in Gamèti. A childhood favourite of his late son, Rocky, the story explores how even the smallest creature has a purpose.
Tłı̨chǫ author Richard Van Camp wrote down Zoe’s story. He told Cabin Radio he felt an immediate connection when he first heard it from the Elder several years ago.
“He shared the story with me … and I knew that was the one that really showed our values as northerners, as Dene, as Tłı̨chǫ,” Van Camp said. “Everyone is needed in the circle of life. Everybody has gifts.”
The story is presented in both Tłı̨chǫ and English.
Madelaine Pasquayak – Zoe’s niece – translated a recording of his Tłı̨chǫ telling into English, while Dene painter Carla Rae Taylor, from Yellowknife, provided illustrations.
Scott Willoughby, Indigenous language and culture education coordinator for YK1, was the project’s catalyst and coordinator.
He said capturing such stories in their original language is powerful and important work.
“It’s totally about honouring the Elders,” he said, “because a lot of the Elders are getting a lot older, and there’s not a lot left that are still first-language Tłı̨chǫ speakers, so it’s fun to get this down.”
Taylor said: “Anything to do with reconciliation at this point is so important, and language revitalization is such a huge part of that. It really feels good to be able to create educational resources for young children, and books that Indigenous kids in the North can look at and identify with.”
‘My greatest joy’
Taylor illustrated How Raven Returned the Sun four years ago. She said she was thrilled to return for another story.
“I read the story, and then I reflect on the words and kind of absorb them. Because I’m half Dene, I think about how the people live so close to the land and survived on the land,” Taylor said.
“The drawings start in that place, where I think about the connection to nature and the stories that were told. That’s where the images form in my mind, and then I create from there.”
Van Camp wanted a book he could read with his children that celebrates their Tłı̨chǫ identity.
“When we were growing up, we didn’t have the access to the number of northern authors that we do now,” he said. “That’s my greatest joy, because when I’m reading northern authors, I’m reading my friends. I’m reading my heroes. I’m passing on the values that they share with my family.
“We live in a time of incredible reclaiming. The number-one thing we cherish are the pictures, the songs, the recipes, the names, the prayers, the ceremonies – that’s what’s most important. You don’t need more stuff as you get on in years, you need more spirit inheritance to make you proud of who you are and where you’re from.
“This book that Joe Lazare Zoe narrated and is now out in the world is just something else to be even more proud of, being from the Northwest Territories. I certainly am, every day.”