CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 1. . . .September 6, 2013
Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2013.
252 pp., hardcover & ePub, $15.95 (hc.), $14.95 (ePub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-120-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-413-8 (ePub).
Indian Children-North America-Juvenile literature.
Native children-Canada-Juvenile literature.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I haven’t had to deal with too much racism, probably because my skin is fairly pale and I could pass for white. Other students on my reserve have had a lot of stupid stuff thrown at them by white kids and adults. Because many people take me for white, white people will say racist things to me about other Natives, I usually challenge it. Sometimes I don’t have the energy.
Even white people who know I’m Native can sometimes act like jerks. They’ll say, “Heading home to your tepee?” or go “Woo woo woo woo” and pound their hands on their lips, doing some lame Hollywood version of a war dance.
Others ask me questions, and some of the questions are fine. You can tell when people really want to know something in order to get to know you better. But some questions go too far. Like, because I’m Ojibwe they think I was born on some sort of different spiritual plane or something. All these white people who want to be Native because “Native culture is s beautiful.” It’s another way of not seeing me as human. It’s another way of being racist. (From “Brittany, 17", p. 173.)
Award-winning author Deborah Ellis not only writes fiction for children, but, through her nonfiction, she gives them a voice and lets them speak for themselves. For those parents who want to protect their children from the harsh realities of the wider world, Ellis’ nonfiction may be disturbing. However, I believe that most children/adolescents are much more resilient than many caregivers give them credit, and they are quite willing to face the issues that Ellis presents. While video games like those in the Call of Duty series present the bloodless “excitement” of war and other armed conflicts, Ellis has revealed the harsh impacts of war on the civilian population in books such as Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees and Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-ending War. Her Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS made North American adolescents aware of the devastating effects this illness was having on another continent. With Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children, Ellis brought war’s impact home to Canada and the United States, and with We Want You To Know: Kids Talk About Bullying, she addressed the destructive presence of bullying in our local schools and communities.
With Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, Ellis has assembled brief autobiographical pieces that were derived from interviews with Indigenous children and adolescents in the United States and Canada. According to Ellis, “Most of the interviews were conducted in person. A few were done over the phone.” In terms of the book’s scope, Ellis acknowledges, “This book is not intended to be a comprehensive look at the situations faced by Indigenous youth today. Large sections of the community, such as the First Nations of Quebec, the California Mission Indians and the Indigenous peoples of Alaska and Hawaii, are not represented....”
The book’s 42 “chapters” range in length from three to eight pages with most falling between four and six pages. Though most entries consist of the responses of a single individual, in three instances Ellis interviewed a pair of children/adolescents. Consequently, the total number of children and adolescents found in the book totals 45, with their ages ranging from nine to 18, with the majority falling in the 14-18 age range. While the continent’s indigenous peoples were originally not constrained by political borders, the 49th parallel of latitude that now separates the United States from Canada means that members of the same tribal nation can be citizens of two different countries. Consequently, twenty-five of the children/adolescents are “Canadian” while the remaining 20 are “American.” In terms of gender distribution, 26 are female and 19 are male.
A five page “Introduction” provides a broad overview of the attempts by the white conquerors of North America to cause the Indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada to disappear. It is the legacy of these attempts that underlies the personal stories related by the book’s 45 narrators. As Ellis has done in previous books of this type, she begins each “chapter” with a brief introductory section which provides readers with a context for the child’s/adolescent’s comments. For example, 14-year-old Tingo was interviewed in a Native “friendship center” in Kamloops, BC, and Ellis begins his chapter by describing the roles that friendship centers play in the lives of urban Native peoples. Cheyenne, nine, greatly enjoys riding horses, and so her section is introduced by Ellis’ explanation of how the horse was introduced into Indigenous culture in the 1500s by the Spanish. Hilary, 18, had her sister murdered at the age of 15, and information about the murder rates of Canadian Aboriginal women then forms the beginning of her remarks. Statistics about incarceration rates of Native Americans are used to preface the remarks of Brad, 17, who, at the time of his interview, was just two weeks away from having spent a year in a youth prison.
Not surprisingly, a great many of the book’s speakers address the racism they confront, and many openly describe lives significantly touched by alcoholism, drug addiction, disease, early death, suicide, broken homes, and foster homes. However, Ellis also introduces Indigenous youths whose lives have not been touched by such terrible things, and, overall, most of these children and adolescents manage to express an optimistic spirit.
Another structural similarity to Ellis’ earlier books is the inclusion of a small black and white photo of the chapter’s speaker, although these are absent for five of the entries. A few of the entries also contain one or two additional black and white photographs that visually support that chapter’s contents. For example 12-year-old Miranda lives on a reserve adjacent to Sarnia, ON, a community that “[a]ccording to a 2011 study by the World Health Organization...has the worst air quality in Canada.” A photo of a petrochemical plant and another of a sign reading “KEEP OUT - Talfourd Creek Contains Toxic Substances Known to Cause Serious Health Risks” reinforce Miranda’s comments about significant health problems on the reserve.
Scattered throughout the book are a dozen quotations from various Indigenous leaders, including Chief Avrol Looking Horse who said, and asked, “Each of us is put here in this time and in this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Do you think we were put here for something less?” The volume ends with a five page “Resources” section that provides URLs for resources that relate to Canadian and American Indigenous peoples in terms of: activism, addictions, children and youth, community, conservation, culture, education, gangs, residential schools, sports, suicide prevention and women.
Understandably, these brief glimpses into the lives of 45 Indigenous youth cannot provide readers with a complete picture of what it is like to be a First Nations child/youth in contemporary Canada or America, but, because they are personal stories, as opposed to dry statistics and detached reporting, hopefully the contents of Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids will evoke an informed sense of activism in youths belonging to the nations’ majority cultures as well as offer welcome moments of recognition for Indigenous youth.
In keeping with her practice of not profiting personally from the actual lives of others, Ellis is donating the royalties from Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (www.fncaringsociety.com).
Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids is a book that merits being included in all Canadian schools and public libraries.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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