For National Aboriginal History Month we’ll be dedicating our June posts to Aboriginal titles published by Groundwood Books.
We’ve reached National Aboriginal Day! Here at Groundwood, we feel the perfect way to celebrate is by hearing from Indigenous kids themselves. Author and activist Deborah Ellis travelled across the continent, interviewing and gathering stories that we’ve included here. Plus, all royalties from the sale of Looks Like Daylight go to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
I go to a Sun Dance. They have this circle. On the first day, you feast and dance. On the second day, you do a fruit and vegetable feast — that’s all — and you dance. The third day is a fast. On the fourth day, we dance until noon. Then we take the circle apart and take down the tree of life and take down our tents. Then we eat. It makes me feel good because this year I actually completed it. On the second day it was really hard. The weather was hot and I felt like quitting. But I found the strength to keep going and I completed it. I like who I am and where I’m from. It’s special.
— Tyrone, 13
Even white people who know I’m Native can sometimes act like jerks. They’ll say, “Heading home to your teepee?” or go “Woo-woo-woo-woo!” and pound their hands to their lips, doing some lame Hollywood version of a war dance. Others ask me questions and they’re respectful. You can tell when people really want to know something in order to get to know you better. But some questions go too far. Like, because I’m Ojibwe they think I was born on some sort of different spiritual plane or something.
— Brittany, l7
My chenai [grandfather] and my nana and others ran away from the residential school they were put into. Some of the older generation, like my great-grandparents, looked at the residential school as a good thing, but the schools weren’t as bad for their generation. For my nana and chenai it was a whole lot of abuse. They were treated really badly.
My mother says there is no way to make up for the crimes of the past. There’s only forward.
— Cohen, 14
I live just over the hill from where the Wounded Knee massacre took place, over by Wounded Knee Creek. For white kids it’s just something in a history book. For me it’s my family. It’s my ground that they bled on. It’s personal.
— Destiny, 15
About Looks Like Daylight
After her critically acclaimed books of interviews with Afghan, Iraqi, Israeli and Palestinian children, Deborah Ellis turns her attention closer to home. For two years she traveled across the United States and Canada interviewing Native children. The result is a compelling collection of interviews with children aged nine to eighteen. They come from all over the continent, from Iqaluit to Texas, Haida Gwaai to North Carolina, and their stories run the gamut — some heartbreaking; many others full of pride and hope.
You’ll meet Tingo, who has spent most of his young life living in foster homes and motels, and is now thriving after becoming involved with a Native Friendship Center; Myleka and Tulane, young artists in Utah; Eagleson, who started drinking at age twelve but now continues his family tradition working as a carver in Seattle; Nena, whose Seminole ancestors remained behind in Florida during the Indian Removals, and who is heading to New Mexico as winner of her local science fair; Isabella, who defines herself more as Native than American; Destiny, with a family history of alcoholism and suicide, who is now a writer and powwow dancer.
Many of these children are living with the legacy of the residential schools; many have lived through the cycle of foster care. Many others have found something in their roots that sustains them, have found their place in the arts, the sciences, athletics. Like all kids, they want to find something that engages them; something they love.
Deborah briefly introduces each child and then steps back, letting the kids speak directly to the reader, talking about their daily lives, about the things that interest them, and about how being Native has affected who they are and how they see the world.
As one reviewer has pointed out, Deborah Ellis gives children a voice that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to express so readily in the mainstream media. The voices in this book are as frank and varied as the children themselves.