A group of students at Chief Sunrise Education Centre on the Hay River Reserve will be hosting a book launch on March 30.
The students – six still attending the school and two now attending classes in Hay River – created the illustrations for When I Was Little, an award-winning story based on the childhood of late elder Clara Lafferty.
The story has been published in three different versions to help promote aboriginal languages.
A limited number of books in both Dene Yati and English will be given out at the launch and community feast at noon on March 30 at the Chief Lamalice Complex during which students will be signing the books.
When I Was Little won the children’s category in the first-annual Aboriginal Children’s Book Writing Contest, held last year by the South Slave Divisional Education Council.
For Aboriginal Languages Month in March, the council released When I Was Little and the winning story in the contest’s adult category Fish for You and Fish for Me! by Emily Jarvis of Yellowknife.
“We received many strong entries and making a final decision was not easy,” stated Brent Kaulback, a retired assistant superintendent for the education council, in a March 13 news release. “This contest captures the traditions of the storyteller and adds significantly to our growing library of quality children books produced in our official aboriginal languages and written by Northerners for the children and families of the North.”
Each of the stories have been published in three books featuring English and either Slavey for the Hay River Reserve and Hay River, Cree for Fort Smith, or Chipewyan for Fort Resolution, Lutsel K’e and Fort Smith.
The students at Chief Sunrise, led by Slavey teacher Diane Tourangeau, turned Lafferty’s story about her childhood into illustrations.
“My Auntie Clara was the one that told a story to the children, and they wrote it down and then they illustrated it,” said Tourangeau, noting that, when her aunt was a little girl, she lived in the Hay River Reserve’s Old Village, lived on the land and travelled by dog team.
When the students created the illustrations, they were in a class taught by Teresa Patterson, who has since moved to Ontario.
Tourangeau said the students are very proud of the book and pleased that it’s in memory of Clara Lafferty.
“It’s very important for us to remember and to look back on how our people survived,” said Tourangeau. “And the language is very important. I’ve been working with culture and language for the last 12 years. I feel it’s very important that our language is being recognized and our elders are being recognized. We’re using the information that our elders have passed onto us and I feel it’s very important we speak our language.”
The contest is now called the Children’s Storybook Contest.
“We encourage the NWT community to participate in our second book contest,” said Kaulback. “We will again be looking for books with strong Northern themes that lend themselves to translation and illustration.”
The Children’s Storybook Contest is open until June 16.
Sarah Pruys, the public affairs co-ordinator with the education council, explained the contest name was changed because last year’s Aboriginal Children’s Book Writing Contest was a little too long of a name and confusing for some people.
“Last year, I was getting questions from people wondering if it was open to people who weren’t indigenous, and if it was open to just students,” she said. “So I was hoping to simplify it and make it a little easier for people to understand. And I really stress that it is open to everyone.”
People living anywhere can enter the contest.
The stories should appeal to younger children and contain Northern themes and cultural perspective, said Pruys. “The contest is for sure open to everyone, but we’re looking for stories that really reflect our Northern life in the NWT.”
The print books will be reformatted as ebooks and uploaded onto the council’s free First Nations Storybook app (Bush Cree, Slavey and Chipewyan editions) which can be downloaded through Apple’s App Store.