Nibi's Water Song: New children's book promotes access to clean drinking water

Seeing a drawing of an Indigenous child on a book cover prompted Sunshine Tenasco to write her own children’s story about the importance of clean water.
Nibi's Water Song was written by Sunshine Tenasco (right) and illustrated by Chief Lady Bird (left) and will be available through Scholastic Books. (Provided)

Seeing a drawing of an Indigenous child on a book cover prompted Sunshine Tenasco to write her own children's story about the importance of clean water.

At the time, the Anishinaabe entrepreneur and mother of four from Kitigan Zibi, was doing workshops to raise awareness about the water crisis on many First Nations. Tenasco is the founder of Her Braids, an organization committed to advocating for clean drinking water in Indigenous communities. 

Clean water is an issue that hits close to home for Tenasco. "Forty per cent of our community still doesn't have clean drinking water," she said. Tenasco also pointed out her community is right next to the French town of Maniwaki, where clean drinking water is accessible to all residents. 

So when Tenasco walked into a bookstore and saw a book by Monique Gray Smith "with this little brown girl on the cover," she was inspired to write her own. 

That moment, Tenasco recalled, "kick started everything."

Tenasco's first book, Nibi's Water Song, will be published this summer by Scholastic.

An interior image of Nibi's Water Song. Text by Sunshine Tenasco, illustration by Chief Lady Bird. (Scholastic)

It's a story about a little girl named Nibi who's thirsty and can't find clean water to drink. Nibi is also the name of Tenasco's 13-year-old daughter. In the book, with no luck from her tap, or the nearby river, Nibi heads to the next town and starts knocking on doors looking for a safe source of drinking water.

Nibi's Water Song is illustrated by Chief Lady Bird, who is Chippewa and Potawatomi from Rama and Moose Deer Point First Nations. Tenasco said she had been "fan-girling" over Chief Lady Bird's art for a long time.

When Scholastic asked Chief Lady Bird if she would be interested in illustrating the book "it didn't take much convincing," said the artist. 

Chief Lady Bird was already familiar with Tenasco's water advocacy work through Her Braids. "I respect Sunshine and the work that she does."

"Scholastic was pitching it to me and being like 'If you're interested let us know.' And I was like 'I don't even need to think about this. This is a yes right off the top.'"

When Tenasco saw the illustrated book for the first time it was "super emotional."

"I just busted out crying," she said.

"I just want all these little brown kids to see themselves on there. And I want them to see that they can create their own change in a positive and good way," said Tenasco.

"For me, as an artist, that's really important to find a good way to talk about these really hard subjects," added Chief Lady Bird. "I really think it's going to speak to a lot of young people."