Looks Like Daylight

daylight

Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, by Deborah Ellis

Author Interview and book review by Janet Nicol

“History impacts on the present,” says Deborah Ellis, discussing her latest book Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids in a recent telephone interview. “Situations grow from the past.” Ellis gained this understanding and a great deal more travelling across North America for more than two years, talking to aboriginal children and teenagers living on and off reserves. “Children don’t get recognized for having opinions,” she observes. “They have a lot to say.”

Instead of turning these interviews in to fiction, as Ellis does when writing award-winning novels for and about young people, she lets First Nations, Metis and Inuit youth tell their stories in their own words. “Half of the interviewees are Canadian and half are American,” she says, travelling with her tape recorder as far south as Texas, north to Iqaluit and along the Pacific coast to Haida Gwaii. “I attempt to keep myself out of the book as much as possible.” Even so, Ellis’ trademark empathy and respect for young people is evident in the trust and open responses she elicits.

Each of the 45 people interviewed is identified with a first name only, along with his or her age and a brief biography. Photos of some of the interviewees and scenes of their communities are included. All describe their realities with courage—both heart-wrenching and inspiring. Suicide and addiction issues—among other challenges—appear in some of the young people’s stories but so do their wise thoughts, selfless dreams and their wealth of talents and achievements.

“The interviews underlined for me the variety of experiences of aboriginal youth, good and bad,” Ellis says. She says the positive experiences for young people often occur “when they are able to get back to traditional practises and to connect with their elders.” Ellis also hopes adults reading the book will see it as a “wake up call” about the way young people are treated.

A forward by Loriene Roy, who is Anishinabe and a professor at the University of Texas, gives insightful and helpful context to these interviews. “These are the stories of young people who have inherited the challenges of colonialism,” she writes. …“Yet they live and, often, thrive.”

Tingo, aged 14, begins the collection. He describes a ‘family systems’ program he joined: “We talk a lot about grief because that’s been a big part of our lives as Native people—grief over losing our land, our language, our customs, our ways. Grief often comes out as trouble.” Tingo was born in Kelowna, British Columbia, and is Blackfoot on his mother’s side and Nicaraguan on his father’s. His young life has already taught him much as he concludes: “It’s your life. Find people who will help you live it.”

Mari, also age 14, says “I feel more Ojibwe than American.” She is active in a dozen different ways—from anti-smoking activism to clothing design. “The more I do, the more I want to do,” she says.

Pearl, aged 15, is from a Cree reserve in Ontario and determined to give back as a police officer when she becomes an adult. “If I become a police officer I’ll never use a car,” she says. “I’ll walk around and know what’s going on and people will know that they can trust me.”

For Tulane, aged 14, growing up in an artistic Navajo family in the American southwest, “Art helps us find our way back.” He is interviewed alongside his equally artistic sister, Myleka, aged 13, who says “I’d love it if other people would keep doing art all through their lives, even if they don’t think they’re good at it. Art helps you to see things.”

Ta’Kaiya, is 11, from the Coast Salish Nation and lives in Vancouver, BC. A determined environmentalist, Ta’Kaiya was part of the Freedom Train that went across the country to protest the Northern Gateway pipeline. “If we don’t take care of the earth there will be nothing left but mocking silence for what we could have saved,” she says.

Jeffrey, 18 comes from the Waruppa Wampanoag Reservation on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts and is involved with United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), an organization that brings together native young people and provides leadership training. “Native youth are hungry to be connected to something,” he says. “They can find that connection here and in the traditions of their own communities. Sometimes they have to go looking for it, but as long as they believe it’s out there, they’ll find it.”

This is not the first time Ellis has been inspired to publish oral interviews. She has also talked with Palestinian and Israeli youth, children in North America who have experienced bullying and young people living through violent conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, generously donating portions of her book royalties to organizations helping young people. All proceeds for Looks Like Daylight will go to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Ellis acknowledges there are separate realities among First Nations youth and other North American youth. “Racism is an issue,” she says. “Young people take the lead from the adults around them.”

The author also sees friendships and commonalities among young people, regardless of their background. Ellis says there is a “huge wealth” of knowledge among aboriginal people which all of society can benefit from.

“It’s an exciting time for everyone,” she says. “There are a variety of First Nations media, such as television and newspapers, which we can access to learn more.”

The last words in Looks Like Daylight go to Waasekom, aged 16. He is Ojibwe from the Saugeen First Nation in Ontario. “My spirit name (“Waasekom”) means ‘when it’s night and lightning fills the sky and it suddenly looks like daylight,’” he explains, inspiring the book’s title.

Waasekom says he speaks at rallies, “with authority, yet people can see that I’m a peaceful person. I’ve worked hard to get this way and I still have a long way to go. I’m not like most guys my age who waste their time listening to the sort of music that poisons their mind. I need my mind clear and strong. There’s work to be done.”

For more information – http://www.deborahellis.com and http://www.fncaringsociety.com

Republished from Our Schools, Our Selves, Fall 2013
Also published in BC Teacher newsmagazine, Nov/Dec 2013

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