I have often been asked why I wrote books about Indigenous characters in
Mistasinîy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone, and Skye Bird and the Eagle Feather.
I have been an educator for over 30+ years and have spent most of my teaching
career in core community schools. I witnessed systemic racism where Indigenous
students were marginalized, made to feel unwelcome and rarely succeeded in school. It is important to note that systemic racism is most often invisible for the dominant culture (Caucasians). Unless you are asking questions about why things are the way they are, it is easy to sit back and let things continue on as they always have.
I felt compelled to understand the invisible powers at play in my schools, so I undertook to get my Master of Education about ten years ago. The focus of my extensive reading and research was understanding the dominant discourse and policies in our education system and trying to find ways to ensure that all students would feel welcome and valued in the classroom. My thesis was entitled: Soul-to-Soul Teaching: Deconstructing Deficit Thinking in the Classroom. It is available here: https://harvest.usask.ca/bitstream/handle/10388/ETD-2013-11-1301/HARELKIN-BISHOP-THESIS.pdf?sequence=4&isAllowed=y
Being a published author as well, having published 13 books to date, I felt the
need to write books for children and young adults with Indigenous characters as the protagonists in the stories. When I first began writing these books, there were not a lot of stories around that had Indigenous characters. This has certainly changed a lot in the past several years. My two books have been met with both praise and quiet dismay, since I am of European heritage. Some adults/teachers loved the books because they provided an understanding of how Indigenous students are often mistreated and misunderstood. The stories also provided teachers a way to see invisible white privilege at work, as well as providing the language needed to begin to have discussions with others, including their students, about systemic racism. It is a difficult topic and having books such as mine to open discussions can help greatly.
On top of that, these two books are engaging stories which capture the reader’s
attention and make them care about what’s going to happen to the characters.
Mistasinîy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone and Skye Bird and the Eagle Feather have both won literary awards. I must also say that I could not have written these books without several friends who are of Cree and Métis heritage, holding my hands, reading each page, and helping me tell these stories in the best possible way.
As the month of June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada, 10% of all
online sales this month will be donated to the Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. This is another way I can contribute to making positive changes in our community.