Wisdom from our First Nations provides 12 vignettes of Native American elders and the advice they share with young readers on topics such as care for the environment, the importance of family, self-awareness, independence, work ethic and history. As elders, each narrator has earned a place in their respective communities as knowledgeable people who can share the stories of their lives and pass wisdom onto the next generation. In many respects these twelve elders grew up in either poverty or difficult times, and experienced hardships growing up that are no less trying than the challenges faced by young people of all cultures today. Their childhoods resemble adventure stories; take for instance Christine Jack, Xwisten First Nation elder who lost three siblings before she was seven, was the first female of her family to graduate high school, who began to immerse herself in alcohol, overcame her addiction, married, raised a family, and paid for her homes. Life struggles such as these give the elders the right to speak from experience and to offer the failures and triumphs of their lives as lessons for others to reflect on and take what they can to improve their own lives. In a time when teenage suicide is prevalent in our indigenous communities, these life stories may provide a tonic for some of the pain suffered by young people.
Classroom Connections: As our schools and classrooms begin to acknowledge the issue of Reconciliation, teachers will be searching for books which depict the lifestyles and histories of Indigenous peoples from the last century when the residential schools were in full use. Using Wisdom from our First Nations as a read aloud or shared reading in the junior and intermediate classroom would provide opportunities to discuss and explore the many talking points in each chapter. Try one story a day, or even one story a week, and focus on raised issues in greater depth over a period of several days, before visiting the next story. Students will be able to understand the similarities and struggles of growing up between all generations while developing an empathy for indigenous peoples and in general, the elders in their own communities.
Review by Kent Miller.