Looks Like Daylight

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.

Looks like DaylightI 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

Looks Like DaylightEven 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

Looks Like DaylightMy 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

Looks Like DaylightI 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

Looks Like Daylight by Deborah EllisAbout 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.

Learn More About Inuit Culture

For National Aboriginal History Month we’ll be dedicating our June posts to Aboriginal titles published by Groundwood Books.

Raquel Rivera’s two books about Inuit culture include an educational resource and a novel. Arctic Adventures features biographies and stories, with pictures and descriptions of four Inuit artists she interviewed herself. Below you can read an excerpt from her novel Tuk and the Whale, set on the eastern coast of Baffin Island.


Grandfather suddenly stopped working.
He had been drilling holes through a flat piece of driftwood. Wood was a rare find. This piece would fill another gap between the sled runners of the family’s kamotiq.
Now he sat perfectly still. His bow-drill stopped spinning.
Tuk watched while Grandfather slowly leaned back on his heels. Did the old man hear something? Tuk strained his ears. All he could hear was the whump-whump of a raven’s wings beating at the wind.
“They are here,” said Grandfather. He went back to work, spinning the drill shaft deeper into the wood.
Tuk’s eyes widened.
They are here! Just the way Grandfather had dreamed. Tuk had to see this. He jumped up and ran toward the beach, stumbling over the snow-covered rocks.
“Sure, go,” Grandfather said to the air. “He’s young. He gets excited.”
Tuk climbed the crest that protected their camp from the wind. He reached the top and looked out over the bay.
There was the beach, cleared of snow by strong winds off the water. The sea ice stretched into the bay. It broke up into floes at the far edge.
Nothing unusual to see here. He waited a moment. Grandfather was hardly ever wrong.
There it was!
It looked like two great narwhal horns rising from the water, piercing straight through the sky. Tuk squinted against the glare that bounced off the ice. Those flapping white skins must be the “sails” Grandfather had mentioned. He said they could be turned to catch the wind, or turned away when the wind was too fierce.
Next into view came the great hull. It was the biggest boat Tuk had ever seen. What kind of creatures would travel in such a large boat? They must be giants!
Tuk felt a chill.
“Mother!” he called, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him. He turned and ran all the way back to camp.
Mother was outside the snowhouse. She was chewing on a scraped sealskin, making it soft enough to sew.
“Mother, when is Father coming back?” Tuk gasped as he reached her side.
“The light is still strong,” she replied. “He may return today.”
“Because the boat is coming! The boat that Grandfather dreamed about! I can see it already. Tomorrow it will be here!”

Arctic Adventures by Raquel RiveraAbout Arctic Adventures
The land, hunting, hunger, magic and extreme weather are themes that resonate for Inuit who live in the Far North. These stories, drawn from the lives of four Inuit artists, offer young readers a glimpse into this rich, remote culture, past and present. Accompanying each story are illustrations by Jirina Marton, who has spent time in the Arctic and whose deep appreciation for its subtle beauty shines through her art. In addition to the stories, there is a feature spread on each artist with a photograph, a brief biography and a reproduction of one of the artist’s works.

Tuk and the Whale by Raquel RiveraAbout Tuk and the Whale
This story is set on the eastern coast of Baffin Island in the early decades of the 1600s. Told from the point of view of a young Inuit boy, Tuk, it imagines what might have happened if the people of Tuk’s Baffin Island winter camp had encountered European whalers, blown far north from their usual whaling route. Both the Inuit hunters and the whalers prize the bowhead whale, but for very different reasons. Together, they set out on a hunt, though they are all on new and uncertain ground.

Scrupulously researched, this beautifully told story will inspire extremely topical discussion about communication between two groups of people with entirely different world views; and about a productive partnership that also foreshadows serious problems to come.

A Roundup of Native Books to Read This Year

The new school year is about to start, and that means another year for students and parents alike to learn about Native history and issues. To celebrate the release of P’ésk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony by award-winning illustrator and author Scot Ritchie, we’ve rounded up a few other books that touch on a wide range of Native subjects, all of which are highly educational and worth a read in 2015/16 (and beyond!). Here are a few books we recommend picking up:

P'ésk'a and the First Salmon Ceremony by Scot Ritchie

P’ésk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony
by Scot Ritchie

It’s the day of the first salmon ceremony, and P’ésk’a is excited to celebrate. His community, the Sts’ailes people, give thanks to the river and the salmon it brings by commemorating the first salmon of the season.

Framed as an exploration of what life was like one thousand years ago, P’ésk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony describes the customs of the Sts’ailes people, an indigenous group who have lived on the Harrison River in British Columbia for the last 10,000 years. Includes an introductory letter from Chief William Charlie, an illustrated afterword and a glossary.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox
by Danielle Daniel

In this introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals, young children explain why they identify with different creatures such as a deer, beaver or moose. Delightful illustrations show the children wearing masks representing their chosen animal, while the few lines of text on each page work as a series of simple poems throughout the book.

In a brief author’s note, Danielle Daniel explains the importance of totem animals in Anishinaabe culture and how they can also act as animal guides for young children seeking to understand themselves and others.

The Outside Circle Written by Patti Laboucane-Benson Illustrated by Kelly Mellings

The Outside Circle
Written by Patti Laboucane-Benson
Illustrated by Kelly Mellings

In this important graphic novel, two Aboriginal brothers surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives.

Pete, a young Aboriginal man wrapped up in gang violence, lives with his younger brother, Joey, and his mother who is a heroin addict. One night, Pete and his mother’s boyfriend, Dennis, get into a big fight, which sends Dennis to the morgue and Pete to jail. Initially, Pete keeps up ties to his crew, until a jail brawl forces him to realize the negative influence he has become on Joey, which encourages him to begin a process of rehabilitation that includes traditional Aboriginal healing circles and ceremonies.

Powerful, courageous, and deeply moving, The Outside Circle is drawn from the author’s twenty years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men.

Winter Moon Song Written by Martha Brooks Illustrated by Leticia RuifernándezWinter Moon Song
Written by Martha Brooks
Illustrated by Leticia Ruifernández

Have you ever seen the rabbit-in-the-moon? Folktales from many cultures explain how the rabbit came to be there. When award-winning novelist Martha Brooks heard one such tale, she was inspired to write her own lovely story about a little rabbit who finds a special way to brighten the darkest month of the year.

Leticia Ruifernandez has graced the story with her tender illustrations.


Shi-shi-etko Written by Nicola I. Campbell Illustrated by Kim Lafave

Written by Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by Kim Lafave

In just four days young Shi-shi-etko will have to leave her family and all that she knows to attend residential school.

She spends her last days at home treasuring the beauty of her world — the dancing sunlight, the tall grass, each shiny rock, the tadpoles in the creek, her grandfather’s paddle song. Her mother, father and grandmother, each in turn, share valuable teachings that they want her to remember. And so Shi-shi-etko carefully gathers her memories for safekeeping.

Richly hued illustrations complement this gently moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace all around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss — a loss that native people have endured for generations because of the residential schools system.

Shin-chi's-Canoe Written by Nicola I. Campbell Illustrated by Kim Lafave

Shin-chi’s Canoe
Written by Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by Kim Lafave

This moving sequel to the award-winning Shi-shi-etko tells the story of two children’s experience at residential school. Shi-shi-etko is about to return for her second year, but this time her six-year-old brother, Shin-chi, is going, too.

As they begin their journey in the back of a cattle truck, Shi-shi-etko tells her brother all the things he must remember: the trees, the mountains, the rivers and the salmon. Shin-chi knows he won’t see his family again until the sockeye salmon return in the summertime. When they arrive at school, Shi-shi-etko gives him a tiny cedar canoe, a gift from their father.

The children’s time is filled with going to mass, school for half the day, and work the other half. The girls cook, clean and sew, while the boys work in the fields, in the woodshop and at the forge. Shin-chi is forever hungry and lonely, but, finally, the salmon swim up the river and the children return home for a joyful family reunion.

The four books below also touch on Native issues — click on a cover to learn more:

As Long as the Rivers Flow Written by Larry Loyie Illustrated by Heather HolmlundNiwechihaw / I Help Written by Caitlin Nicholson Translated by Leona Morin-NelsonLooks Like Daylight Written by Deborah Ellis Last Leaf, First Snowflake to Fall Written by Leo Yerxa

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