Children's book chronicles 11-year-old girl's life-changing canoe trip
Journal of a Travelling Girl meant to teach, entertain and inspire youth
Several years after Nadine Neema wrote an article in the News North newspaper to mark the Tłı̨chǫ Agreement, John B. Zo suggested she write a children's book to teach them about the important event in their history.
The Tłı̨chǫ Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement was signed in 2003 and was the first combined land claim and self-government agreement in the Northwest Territories. Zo played a central role in the negotiations as the the chief negotiator for the former Treaty 11 Council of the Northwest Territories.
Neema, who started working in Wekweètì in 1999 as a community manager and then assisted Zo with the land claims negotiations, had always wanted to write a children's book but she didn't know how to approach it until she went on a canoe trip from Wekweètì to Behchokǫ̀ in 2013 with members of the Tłı̨chǫ community.
"The youth especially that were on that trip really inspired me, inspired the characters in the story, ... watching the way [the youth] grew on the journey, watching the way that they interacted with the elders," she said.
"[That's] what really inspired the story to start to come to life."
The book, Journal of a Travelling Girl, follows 11-year-old Jules who lives in Wekweètì and is invited to go on a canoe trip. Although always welcomed by her community, Jules feels disconnected from the local traditions and ancestral roots of the culture. The canoe trip is about to change all that, giving Jules the chance to face her fears, learn how to survive in the wilderness and realize the wisdom of traditional stories.
Neema worked closely with Behchokǫ̀ artist Archie Beaverho who did all the illustrations for the book.
After reading the story and going through the photos Neema sent him of the canoe trip, he started drawing the main characters and sent them to her. After they pinned down what the main characters looked like, Beaverho started putting them in different settings.
There were also parts of the book for which Neema has no photos but hoped to have an illustration. She said she sent the passages to Beaverho and he went to work.
"Everything was amazing," Neema said. "It was so beautifully done and it added so much to the story. It was very quick and he's very talented."
After he did about 50 illustrations, Beaverho came up with an idea for the cover.
"So he did a sketch and I loved it," said Neema. "And I sent it to the publisher and got their approval. And then he made a painting out of it for the cover of the story."
What readers will take away
Neema said she hopes readers will get a few things out of the book.
"I hope that they'll take away the rich experience of being on the land and these traditional stories that are included in the book and how much value and growth there is in taking these canoe trips," she said.
She also hopes it will inspire youth to write their own stories.
"I hope that it teaches and I hope that it entertains and I hope that it inspires," she said.
With files from Lawrence Nayally