New youngsters’s e book explores Tłı̨chǫ Trails of the Ancestors

“In the footsteps of the ancestors” is the first subtitle of a new children’s book set in the countries of the Tłı̨chǫ Dene in the north. The book will be published virtually on Tuesday evening.

The Journal of a Traveling Girl, part of the coming-of-age novel, part of the compilation of the teachings of Tłı̨chǫ, takes place in 2005 and tells the story of 11-year-old Jules, a young girl who was accepted into the Wekweètì community.

The book follows Jules on the journey in the footsteps of the ancestors, an annual tradition in which parishioners trace the trade, hunting, and trapping paths of earlier generations. The trip ends in Behchokǫ̀, where the historic Tłı̨chǫ Agreement comes into force.

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Author Nadine Neema said the idea for the story came from John B. Zoe, chief negotiator, after reading an article she wrote in 2005 about the agreement.

Nadine Neema, author. Photo: Submitted

“He said,” It would be great if you could write a children’s story to teach the youth about this important time, “Neema told Cabin Radio.” It was something that was asked of me and I took up the challenge , to do it.”

The book was written with feedback from Zoe and is aimed at teens ages nine to twelve, Neema said. It combines “truth and fiction”.

The book draws heavily on the author’s own experiences on the journey of the ancestors, which give both characters and readers an insight into the knowledge of Tłı̨chǫ.

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Tammy Steinwand, director of culture and land protection for the Tłı̨chǫ government, provided guidance during the writing process.

Steinwand will be presented on Tuesday and talk to Neema online about the importance of the canoe trip documented in the book.

According to Steinwand, this is an important way to keep the Tłı̨ch Kultur culture and way of life alive.

“Wherever the annual meeting is supposed to take place, the other three Tłı̨chǫ communities paddle in,” she said.

“We are following in the footsteps of our ancestors and the routes they took to get to these different areas before they were communities. They followed the caribou and other animals to make a living, to survive in the countryside – even into barren land. “

Follow the paths

Those on the trip learn the traditional names of places important to the Tłıłchǫ and the stories associated with them, Steinwand said.

Some participants make discoveries that are deeply personal, such as finding a great-grandparent’s grave site or a hut that their grandparents used.

A photo of Neema capturing her experiences on the ancestral journey. Photo: Nadine Neema

For Steinwand it is crucial that the tradition continues.

“When we’re in our churches and people are in front of the screen all the time, sometimes you forget these important teachings, these important ways our people go,” she said.

Although Neema is not Tłı̨chǫ herself, she did the canoe trip twice: first in 2012 as a lone canoeist, then again in 2013 with the whole group. From 1999 to 2002 she was the band manager of the Dechi Laot’i First Nation in Wekweètì and was close to many of her companions on the trip.

Neema said it was the first time she paid special attention to young people on the trip.

“I watched the teenagers a lot as they experienced this journey and tried to see them through their eyes,” she said.

“You don’t know how difficult it will be. It’s a wonderful experience, but it takes a lot of effort and discipline, and you really learn to carry your own weight. I’ve seen them walk away from young children to take their place on this trail, and that really inspired the arc of Jules’ journey as well. “

Archie Beaverho, a Tłı̨chǫ artist and illustrator of the book. Photo: Submitted

Archie Beaverho, a Tłı̨chǫ artist and painter living in Behchokǫ̀, illustrated the book.

He says drawing up sketches for Neema’s story was easy and natural: it took him less than two weeks to complete the project.

“It’s just amazing how we work together,” said Beaverho. “I’m very happy with the way we did the book together.”

The next generation

Beaverho was on the canoe tour too, an experience he enjoyed. He hopes reading the book will encourage younger people to do the same.

“They’ll look at the book and then probably think, ‘Oh, maybe next time I’ll go … and make a story of it,'” he said.

Steinwand, who made the trip herself four times, said it was hard to describe the power of the experience.

“For the people who have been through it, you will see the smile on their face and the sparkle in their eyes when they talk about it,” she said, “because it is so special.”

Participant on a Trails of the Ancestors trip. Photo: Nadine Neema

Journal of a Traveling Girl kicks off Tuesday with a live Facebook stream hosted by Yellowknife Book Cellar and Heritage House publisher.

From 7 p.m. MT, the stream will contain readings from the book and questions and answers with Steinwand and Neema.

Although new, the book has already found acceptance in NWT schools. The Tłı̨chǫ government paid for the supplies to the Tłı̨chǫ schools and Steinwand reached out to the NWT government to see if the work could find a home within the territorial curriculum.

Steinwand is researching how to translate the book into Tłı̨ch, so that children can learn the language while reading the story.

“I hope it inspires all youngsters to write their stories,” said writer Neema. “I think inspiring other people to be creative is always a wonderful thing.”

The kick-off event will be broadcast on the Tłı̨chǫ government Facebook pages, in the Yellowknife Book Cellar and Heritage House, and on Neema’s personal page.

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