CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 17 . . . . April 18, 2008
These two picture books are jewels. They are Dene stories in the Dogrib family of languages with English translations. These two traditional stories that have been passed down orally over the generations have now been preserved in print and on CD. Each book tells a fascinating story and provides insight into First Nation peoples’ history and cultural heritage. Each story is accompanied by magnificent Native art work. Add to this an audio track in both languages and an interactive CD version of the pictures and text, and you have a many faceted precious gem.
And like gems are beautiful in their overall brilliance with each facet contributing to the value of the whole and none more so than the art work of Archie Beaverho in The Old Man with the Otter Medicine and Archie Beaulieu in Yamozha and His Beaver Wife. Each page is a individual piece of art that helps the reader enter into the traditional world of the story. The artists have unique styles that will add to any reader’s appreciation of the wide variety of Native Art and its influence on Canadian Culture.
The stories, themselves, are another brilliant facet of these “diamonds” of books. They have been told by elders over the centuries and now come to life for us in front of our eyes and ears. The Old Man with the Otter Medicine is a story about the medicine power of an elder who helps a small group of people living on the edge of a lake to overcome the threat of starvation during a hard winter. The legend is passed on so you can “discover one small part of Dene history and the lessons that have been passed on for generations.” It is told in Dogrib by Mary Rose Sundberg and in English by Dianne Lafferty.
Yamozha and His Beaver Wife is a tale used to help explain the naming of the landscape of the land of the Dene People. “The events told in his legends are recorded in the geographic landmarks of the Dene People. Place names appertain to the rules and laws on how we must live in accordance with the animals and land they inhabit. These stories help us to remember the laws that can determine our behavior in our travels to harvest.” This story is told in Dogrib by Francis Zoe and the English translation is by Dianne Lafferty.
Both stories were told around campfires by the old to the young. “These stories were entertaining and capture the imagination of the young and guided them to have a good life. These stories could touch every emotion a person has and were told accordingly, based on the challenges at hand.” They tie the Dene people to the land and to each other.
Another facet of each book is the displaying of the Dogrib and English on the same page. This is an excellent way for young readers to begin to understand the differences in language and their relationship to culture. The CD adds even more facets as it provides recorded readings in both English and Dogrib. One part of the CD provides the audio so that we can listen while reading the book, and the second part includes both an audio and a visual representation of the book that can be viewed on screen. We can watch as the words are highlighted on the page, and we hear the pronunciation. An orthography and pronunciation guide is provided to assist us in learning how to read and speak the Dogrib language. As many languages in the world are disappearing, these little books are one way to help preserve them for all to enjoy. This pair of books would also be helpful for advocates for traditional languages, especially those tying to promote the teaching and revitalization of the Dogrib language.
These many faceted books should be an integral part of all early years curricula across Canada as they help to deepen our understanding of First Nations heritage and culture. They should grace not only the bookshelves of classrooms but those of parents and grandparents.
Gary Babiuk is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He teaches Social Studies Methods and is interested in holistic learning and spirituality in education.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.