Saddle Lake Cree Nation girl earns recognition from UNESCO

Nine year-old Bella Morrisseau Whiskeyjack hasn't hit double digits yet, but she can soon call herself an award winning, published author and a UNESCO child ambassador.

Bella Morrisseau Whiskeyjack will have her work published in six languages

Bella Morrisseau Whiskeyjack wrote a speech about the history of treaties and what it was like living on the Saddle Lake Cree Nation as a young girl. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Bella Morrisseau Whiskeyjack might only be nine years old but she is about to become a published author.

Encouraged by a teacher to enter a speech competition put on by the Elk Island Public School District in the last school year, the Sherwood Park youngster decided to tell the history of Treaty 6 and her experience living on reserve.

Bella is a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation.

"The kids don't really know about [life on the reserve]," Bella said.

"I told them so they can know what happened there and I also told the kids and everyone to see if they could help me change this."

In her speech, she described conditions in her home when she was younger, including leaks, black mold and "long, scary bugs."

Nine-year-old Bella Morrisseau Whiskeyjack reads her speech to her "Papa," Merle Morrisseau. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Her grandfather, Merle Morrisseau, chokes up when he thinks about how she lived as a young child.

"I didn't realize where housing was at and where she was at," Morrisseau said.

"Basically they lived with their mom and I knew there was concerns. I knew there was issues."

'The contract of Treaty 6'

2 years ago
Bella Morriseau Whiskeyjack won silver for her story from UNESCO Voices of Future Generations Children’s Initiative. 2:13

He said it was important for his granddaughter to have an opportunity to speak her truth.

"Way back when you were simply told don't say anything," Morrisseau said. 

"Don't talk. Don't say anything. So now a nine year old steps up and says 'This is how things are.'"

He said not only did Bella have the support of staff and students at her school, the speech opened the doors to more conversations.

After she gave her speech, Bella was encouraged to turn it into a story for the 2019 Indigenous Child Author Competition through the UNESCO Voices of Future Generations Children's Initiative.

When she expressed interest, Morrisseau was right there to help. 

She would spend hours a day working on her story, writing two or three chapters.

"I would bring those chapters to papa," she said. 

"He would type them out and get me some pictures and he would get me to edit it. So, for a few days I was the boss … after all those days I finally said I like it and I wanted to submit it."

Bella won silver and her writing will now be part of a collection of stories that will be published in six languages. 

She will also act as a child ambassador for UNESCO.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization describes itself as an organization that encourages international peace and respect for human rights.

Merle Morrisseau embraces his granddaughter Bella Morrisseau Whiskeyjack in the kitchen of their Sherwood Park home. (Dave Bajer/CBC)