Hello! Tānsi! Tawnshi!
Welcome to my Reading Log! As part of my ELIB 216 class, we were to develop an organized collection of 40 book titles (picture books, transitional books, novels up to grade 8) representing First Nations, Metis or Inuit content or authorship — no older than 2000 and reflecting a Canadian context in at least half of the titles.
Looking back, I could have worked through this assignment as such – as any old assignment that has ever been presented to me — which is how I initially approached it. I spent hours searching libraries, online databases, and discussing with others to develop the perfect list of books. But to me, this became no ordinary task in University. Instead, it set me on a journey of exploring, questioning and discovering.
To respect the authenticity and cultural identity of various Indigenous groups, I focused on authors or illustrators who identify as either part of a First Nations tribe member, Inuit or Métis. I did not choose any authors who wrote about a cultural identity that was not their own, unless accompanied by an illustrator who had that perspective. Even more so, I thought that it was important that through the process I analyzed my own stereotypes and interested assumptions that I would be demonstrating in these books, attempting to balance titles that represented the values of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to the books that shared their colonial hardships and experiences of inequality.
I knew that it was important to be aware that while some of these values and traditions are shared in a children’s book, teachers need to be conscious about demonstrating respect and appropriate boundaries to the depth that they can discuss themselves about these cultural traditions and perspectives. For that reason, I separated the books into Traditional Territories, to demonstrate that the many First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups cannot be generalized into one category, to maintain and celebrate the uniqueness within the various Indigenous communities. Books should be an entry point into content, but students require a holistic learning opportunity through the integration of personal stories.
When I completed the log, I looked back proudly at the collection I had created for myself. By the end, it was essentially built around titles that I thought for sure would be something I could implement into my students’ learning experiences and even what I would encourage students to read independently. And I thoroughly enjoyed the process – I was introduced to a variety of books that I never even knew existed; and moreover, this journey has proven to me that no teacher can justify that they cannot find a book that matches the needs of their students in the context of bringing forward First Nations, Metis and Inuit content and perspectives.
Moreover, I included First Nations, Métis, and Inuit characters taking part in contemporary activities that any child would take part in. Although students enjoy seeing themselves in a picture book, if they are constantly portrayed as a character in trouble, being picked on, it brings forward this perspective that they are less than. We need to empower children in a variety of contexts, to have them be the main character of just a regular book, one who goes on adventures and is just a kid. When we look for that connection, often times we only view FNMI content to be integrated when we are discussing residential schools, colonial impacts or traditional worldviews and values. But why can’t a Cree, Anishinabek, Metis, or Inuit character just be in a book doing every day contemporary activities? By only focusing on certain perspectives and ideas, we are further isolating and segregating these cultural identities without appreciating that within these differences there are also similarities.
Seeing Things From a Different Perspective
But this feeling of satisfaction did not last long. Looking at the collection again, it no longer felt complete. In my log, I originally picked to read and document books that avoided the stereotypes, cultural appropriation, biases and judgements that are still very evident in our society today – books that seemed to paint the perfect picture (even if about destructive colonial impacts, it was brought forward in an authentic, accurate and powerful way). But that’s the point that I missed: that these judgements and assumptions are still present in society today. What would my students be learning if they were always provided with reading material that brought forward content and perspectives in a way that they should be brought up. Will this lead them to believe that society and books always provide content in an accurate and respectful way? Through the process of searching for perfection, I realized that I was actually limiting my student’s opportunity to critically analyze the implications of culturally inappropriateness and judgement that are more often evident than not in many forms of literature and societal structures.
We think to ourselves that if we find a book that has been written in the last 5, 10 or 15 years that there is no way such stereotypes and prejudices would be presented in those pieces of literature, especially when being written for children. But if that is our way of thinking, then we ourselves have a long way to go. These last four years have been a compact yet significant journey of unpacking and (un)learning the Colonial-Settler perspectives that have for so long been ingrained in not only my education, but my own worldview. And yet, despite all the unpacking I had done, I still demonstrated the white-settler privilege of choosing to ignore the books that were not seen as acceptable. But to so many First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities and individuals, those books still bring forward the reality that they are not seen equally or truthfully by so many.
I realized that I had been trying so hard to find the perfect 40 books for this collection that I became ignorant to the valuable and critical learning experiences that I could be providing for my students by exploring beyond the seemingly ‘perfect’ book. Although we want to find what is engaging about a book, it may not always be the stunning illustrations or seamless plot, but maybe even that it promotes critical thinking and questioning. Students love to be challenged by books more than we even realize. And when something does not make sense in a book, they are almost more likely to point it out, because they get so embedded within the story line, as if it were their own life being portrayed.
How I organized this book collection might still not be how others choose to look at it, and for this reason it will always be a learning process for myself and others. This journey of exploring and analyzing FNMI literature is not near over. I am so thankful that a task that was once just viewed as an assignment, has developed into a continuous goal for myself as an educator.