CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 28 . . . . March 23, 2012
This popular, award-winning stop-motion animation series centres around three young Cree children: 10-year-old T-Bear, nine-year-old Talon and six-year-old Raven, who live in Wapos (pronounced Wah-poose) Bay, a remote community in northern Saskatchewan. Viewers are introduced to life in an Aboriginal community where ancient traditions, such as offering sage and tobacco, and modern conveniences, such as video games and cell phones, both have their place. The children are guided by elders and family members as they learn about their culture as well as important values, including respect, cooperation and honesty. Each episode has a specific theme and is infused with light humour. Viewers will soon get to know each of the characters and her/his particular idiosyncracies, but Kohkum Mary, with her forgetful ways and tendency to ramble, is likely to become a favourite. Well-known Aboriginal actors lend their voices to the characters. Two examples are Gordon Tootoosis of North of 60 and Lorne Cardinal of Corner Gas fame. The DVDs are filmed in English, French and Cree (with English subtitles) and are about 24 minutes in duration. Also included on the DVDs, in PDF format, are study guides for each episode. (These are also available on the National Film Board web site.) Study guides include an episode summary, background information, key themes, pre and post-viewing activities, and project ideas, which include art, writing, drama and research. These guides offer some excellent ideas for the classroom teacher and are sure to spark discussion, divergent thinking and creativity. Though some of the questions in the guides are meant for an older audience, the teacher can adapt them to suit the grade level of the class.
In Episode 14, A Mother’s Earth, Raven’s teacher assigns a research report on identity. Raven does some research at the library and also talks to Kohkum Mary, Uncle Jacob, Chief Big Sky and her mother, but she only gets more and more confused with some of the terms she learns, some examples of which are Aboriginal, Indigenous and Métis. Meanwhile, T-Bear and Talon help Old Man Gabriel to prepare for a sweat lodge ceremony by gathering rocks and chopping wood. Their assistance is rewarded by their being given the names Spirit Walker and Wing Brother. Raven realizes that her identity is shaped by many factors, her heritage being just one of them, but what is most important is that she is much loved by her family.
Going for the Gold (Episode 15) features Talon’s preparations for the North American Indigenous Games (NAID). Talon dreams of a talking dog who tells him that he can bring pride to Wapos Bay by winning a gold medal in the NAID. So T-Bear and Devon help Talon with his training, and even Kohkum Mary adds to the rather unique training methods. In the next dream, the dog spirit brings Talon a golf club, so Talon enlists the help of Uncle Jacob who has a great deal of golf experience. T-Bear becomes jealous of all the attention that his dad is paying to Talon and is particularly upset when Jacob forgets his birthday. Though the father-son conflict is resolved at the end of this episode, it is dealt with too quickly. Perhaps a few more lines of dialogue would have been helpful. (Two other minor criticisms of this episode are that the boys suggest the use of a sports energy drink, which, for young children, can be dangerous, and that the children are shown walking along a railroad track.)
In Raven Power, Episode 16, Raven feels that there is an inequality between the men and women of Wapos Bay, and that the women do not get the respect that they deserve. She tells Chief Big Sky, but he does nothing about the situation. Then Raven voices her concern to the female elders of the community, and they are spurred into action. The women gather at a large campsite, leaving the men to fend for themselves. Though the women fare very well, not so the men. Over the next few days, while the women enjoy delicious food, morning yoga, music and storytelling, the men, with the exception of Jacob, cannot even make a simple breakfast for themselves. Jacob makes a plea to the women via the Wapos Bay’s radio station, inviting them to talk to them about the impasse. Raven then calls the station with a list of the women’s demands to which the men agree.
Lights, Camera, Action!, Episode 17, features actor Adam Beach. When Mr. Darian, the teacher, assigns a video project about what Treaty Days mean to the students, Adam evaluates the project proposals. Talon and Devin want to make a documentary in which they interview the elders of Wapos Bay to find out how they have been affected by the treaty, whereas T-Bear would rather create an action-adventure film about the signing of the treaty. Adam likes both ideas, and so the rest of the students choose which of the videos they wish to work on. When T-Bear’s perfectionism starts to wear thin on his group, most of the kids quit and defect to Talon’s team. When the end result is that neither boy’s film is particularly engaging, Adam suggests that the boys combine the footage to create one longer documentary. This turns out to be very successful. Meanwhile, Raven feels neglected on account of all the excitement over the film-making, especially since the subject of the film, Treaty Days, is supposed to be all about the importance of family and spending quality time together.
In Episode 18, Dance, Dance, T-Bear enrolls in wrestling when community courses are offered, but he is drawn to the Métis jigging class which is held on the same evening. Jacob, who was once a member of the university wrestling team, obviously wants T-Bear to take up wrestling and even gives him his old wrestling trunks. Instead, however, T-Bear wears the trunks to the dance class where he excels at jigging. Eventually, Jacob finds out that his son has deceived him, prompting a father-son talk (which, unfortunately, doesn’t quite go far enough and begs more dialogue). Meanwhile, Raven and Talon take karate lessons. Through the “moccasin telegraph”, they learn that their parents are expecting a “bundle of joy”, but instead of a new baby brother or sister, the bundle turns out to be some puppies.
Raiders of the Lost Art, Episode 19, deals with the issue of graffiti and restitution. On a school field trip, the class discovers ancient petroglyphs on rocks, so the locale is designated as a protected area. Wapos Bay is experiencing a spate of vandalism, but, when Devon, T-Bear and Talon overhear some teenagers planning to spray paint graffiti on the rocks bearing the petroglyphs, they decide to take matters into their own hands and catch the perpetrators in the act. They enlist the help of the Norsemen, a group of technicians working in Wapos Bay, who have night vision goggles and other stealth equipment. The boys catch the teens, but the teens, being older and stronger, tie the boys to a tree. Officer Musqua and other community members eventually rescue the boys. As restitution, the teens have to wash the graffiti off all the houses they have spray painted, and, at T-Bear’s suggestion that everyone should have freedom of expression, they are also asked to create a mural for the school.
One of the series’ greatest strengths is that it teaches universal values and concepts through the Aboriginal culture. Interesting, enjoyable stories, infused with humour, provide much food for thought.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.