Indigenous

New Indigenous writers adding more representation to children's literature

Two first-time authors are part of a new generation of writers bringing more Indigenous representation to children's literature in Canada.

'I think children's books, picture books are one area where you've seen a lot of growth,' says author

Shayla Raine's children's book, The Way Creator Sees You, is meant to empower Indigenous children in their identity. (Submitted by Shayla Raine)

Two first-time authors are part of a new generation of writers bringing more Indigenous representation to children's literature in Canada.

Shayla Raine, from Maskwacis, Alta., has just independently published her first book called The Way Creator Sees You with the intention of empowering Indigenous children to be confident in who they are and where they come from. 

"Whatever role you hold when you're reading a book like The Way Creator Sees You and you're sitting down with a child speaking these empowering words to them, not only are you spending quality time with them, but you're also planting a seed in them to be proud of who they are," she said.

Her book is a long, free verse poem about a Plains Cree boy who finds himself struggling with things like having long hair and his name. His grandmother explains the values behind his hair and his name. 

Raine said she is feeling both overwhelmed and happy about the book being published and the support she's been receiving from the Indigenous community. 

"Knowing my intention behind the book has been realized is incredible," she said. 

Michael Redhead Champagne is another first-time author whose book, We Need Everyone, is set to be released in September by Highwater Press.

Champagne said since he was little he wanted to have a book published and is excited that it's finally happening. 

The book is about acknowledging that everyone has unique gifts that need to be shared to create a strong and safe community.

Michael Redhead Champagne is a child welfare advocate and community planner in Winnipeg whose first book will be published in September. (Submitted by Michael Redhead Champagne)

Champagne serves as a narrator in the book telling children three ways to find out what their gifts are. His cat Sushi also makes an appearance. 

"The need to have children-specific content that represents and reflects the the way those children think and look and feel about the world will help us address challenges like family separation, like suicide," Champagne said. 

"Hopefully what this book does is it gives kids a basis to help themselves and their friends address their mental health."

Champagne is a child welfare advocate and community organizer with family roots in Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba, who was raised in the north end of Winnipeg.

Still work to be done 

David A. Robertson, an award-winning Swampy Cree author of books for children and young adults based in Winnipeg, said while it's an exciting time for Indigenous creators across all mediums, the representation of Indigenous writers in the broader Canadian literary landscape is still relatively low.

"I think children's books, picture books are one area where you've seen a lot of growth," said Robertson. 

He said that as an established author, it's important for him to make sure he's opening doorways for new and emerging writers. 

The Great Bear is a middle-grade book by David A. Robertson.   (Puffin Canada, Amber Green)

Looking at the volume of work being published across all genres, Robertson said Indigenous writers are feeling more empowered to share their stories.

"I think that we feel the gravity, the importance of sharing our truth because we haven't had that platform," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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