This year was declared the Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the efforts of so many who are championing more appreciation for indigenous languages. And it makes it a special time for us at Second Story Press to mark the publication this fall of dual-language editions of three picture books: I Am Not a Number, The Water Walker, and Stolen Words—into Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe), Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), and Plains Cree, respectively.
It has been a very meaningful experience to work with the translators, authors, and community members involved in these dual-language editions. Having no staff at Second Story who are indigenous themselves, we needed outside expertise in every way. By sharing these translations, these indigenous translators and consultants also shared with us a bit about each of their communities and cultures.
The idea to do these dual-language editions was first proposed by author Jenny Kay Dupuis. [em]Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii/
I Am Not a Number[/em], which was written by Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland, is an award-winning true story now available in both English and Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe), Nbisiing dialect—the language spoken by the book’s protagonist, Irene Couchie, who was Dupuis’s grandmother. As a young girl Couchie was taken from her parents to live in a residential school (often called boarding schools in the U.S.), where she was forbidden from speaking her language. The translation took place on a local level with Muriel Sawyer, Geraldine McLeod, and Tory Fisher—language speakers from Nipissing First Nation, Couchie’s home. Language revitalization is of great importance to this community, which recognizes that language is key to a culture’s ability to thrive. Dupuis believes that translation initiatives like this, done at the community level, can widen the world of children’s literature, creating space for indigenous-language speakers.
Joanne Robertson also dreamed of seeing her picture book brought home to her community in their own language. Nibi Emosaawdang/The Water Walker was both written and illustrated by Robertson and was translated into Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) by Shirley Williams—a fellow water walker—and Isadore Toulouse. It is the award-winning true story of a determined nokomis (the Ojibwe word for grandmother) named Josephine-ba Mandamin, and her great love for nibi (water). Translators Williams and Toulouse are both from Mandamin’s home community of Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation. The translation draws special meaning from the fact that both Williams and Mandamin were also sent to residential school, where they too were forbidden from speaking their language. Mandamin was able to read the translation before her passing earlier this year.
The third book to be translated was Kimotinâniwiw itwêwina/Stolen Words, written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. It is a fictional story of the touching relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When the little girl asks her grandfather how to say something in Cree, he tells her that his language was stolen from him when he was taken to residential school as a boy. She then sets out to help him find his language again, bringing home a Cree-English dictionary for them to share. The translation was carried out by two Plains Cree speakers: Dolores Sand, from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, and Gayle Weenie, from Sweetgrass First Nation in Saskatchewan, with wonderful support and consultation provided by the Cree Literacy Network and professors from the First Nations University of Canada.
To see these books welcomed by their respective communities, who took such care in helping to achieve their creation, is a great joy. As a publisher, it is something we have been privileged to be a part of. And as a welcome footnote to this story, Second Story Press is happy to share that these books are already almost sold out of their first printings.
Emma Rodgers is the marketing and promotions manager at Second Story Press in Toronto.