Alberta-Rose says that what became a project focused on sustaining storytelling traditions, for her, began with a simple invitation.
“I was approached by Dr. Andrew Miller and Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly, to go and be a part of an Elders meeting. And, you know, how could I not spend my Saturdays with a bunch of Elders. So I did…and I thought it would be fun to go listen in and hear their stories. And so I did. And then just one thing led to another and then we were creating a children’s story.
Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly, a professor at First Nations University of Canada, says that the book had a long trajectory inspired by an earlier project led by Dr. Andrew Miller, which led to a published compilation of Elder stories. Based on these stories, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community members from Touchwood Hills Tribal Agency asked that they create educational materials, and in particular, a children’s book.
O’Reilly, who teaches in FNU’s education program, is quick to point out that the book is certainly a testament to community and collaboration rather than a solo endeavour.
“It’s a cast of 1000s, who created this. First and foremost, it came from Elders and the community of Touchwood Agency Tribal Council.”
The book is a fictionalised account of berry picking, an activity that appeared often in the community discussions with O’Reilly and her collaborators. The text is in three languages: Cree, Saulteaux, and English, a reflection of the languages spoken in the area the book is representing. All the proceeds from the book are being allocated to Touchwood Agency Tribal Council—which includes Day Star, George Gordon, Kawacatoose, and Muskowekwan First Nations—and their collective education fund.
The book went through many drafts, with translators from the community to ensure its accuracy. O’Reilly says that it was this commitment to the knowledge held by Elders that played a big part in making the project successful.
“I remember, the first couple of times, they said, well add more about the respect aspect… So then we went back to the drawing board, and then we brought it back. So it was very much done in conjunction with them. It was a cooperative effort with a capital C.”
Bear, a teacher, who calls Creative Saskatchewan “a godsend,” says it’s important for people to realize that projects like this are vital in maintaining storytelling traditions and ensuring that not just the languages–both spoken and written–survive, but that so do the stories themselves in a form that young kids can find easier to digest.
“The storytelling that the Elders were doing originally would not pique the interest of the kids as much as they would with a children’s book. There’s pictures, there’s animation, but for an Elder to sit down in front of the classroom or anything, [the students] kind of get lost…I think what the elders are wanting is just kind of having that. Getting back to that root, you know, getting back to that, being able to tell stories.”
The team behind Grandfather’s Reminder are all hopeful that the model they’ve used—partnering with a publisher, Elders, and a community organization or council—can help other Indigenous communities follow their lead.