We are water protectors.
Our sacred place is the Everglades.
We go tubing down the Ichetucknee and dive in Blue Springs.
We fill cups and mugs with water all day long to keep us hydrated and well in the Florida weather.
This is our small poem. But Anishinabe/Métis author Carole Lindstrom goes much farther in her lyrical picture book WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS, stunningly illustrated by Tlingit Michaela Goade.
Alexis, 20: The book begins with the line: "Water is the first medicine. Nokomis told me." In the glossary, we learn Nokomis means 'Grandmother' in Ojibwe.
Ashleigh, 13: I love that picture of the girl and gramma standing in the water together running it through their fingers. All the different shades of blue from the waves to the sky.
Charlie, 17: I like this: "The river's rhythm runs through my veins. Runs through my people's veins." I also like the clear gaze of the Anishinabe girl. She looks directly at the reader. So many times, with issues of environmentalism and Indigenous rights, people want to look away. The girl is challenging them to look into her eyes.
Ashleigh: The illustrations are so beautiful. The one we kept seeing before we got the book, where she's running in profile and her dark hair is the waves. The text reads: "TAKE COURAGE! I must keep the black snake away/ From my village's water. I must rally my people together." Wow!
Charlie: That black snake is the pipeline that White men want to lay down to "Spoil the water. Poison plants and animals. Wreck everything in its path"--that illustration is scary with the rust and rot. We find out that the ancestors spoke of the black snake many years ago and now it's here!
Ashleigh: That is the girl and the others who come to speak for those who cannot speak: all living things. We know this happened. Our families followed #NoDAPL on the news. We know the black snakes will not go away, but the peaceful fight against them will not go away either.
Alexis: This book is very affirming, but it's sad too. The poem by Ms. Carole made my heart go up and down. The illustrations are perfectly matched. It's not overcomplicated and that's not easy. It centers the activism of a young girl leading her community, which is totally relevant in today's world. Though any child can relate to her, can be her. What's the question you wanted answered?
Ashleigh: What is the importance of the white feather she is carrying?
Alexis: What do you think?
Charlie: It's sacred. It's white, which is peace. She holds it up as a leader. This really happened.
Alexis: Can a young girl be a leader? Can she even be a warrior for her people and the elements?
Charlie: I like the two pages that show the Standing Rock encampment. That was 2016--we were young, hearing some from our families. I studied the people. They show physical differences in Native people, though maybe I wish there was a bit more of that. Some people with obvious disabilities, the Two-Spirit flag.
Alexis: I am the oldest and my mom listened all the time and kept me informed. Maybe I dreamed of being that girl before this book was made. Maybe that's our legacy. Our future. Many people will read this book and get the message. The back matter is also concise but informative. There are some great details that you can go back and notice. Michaela Goade writes: "To honor Carole Ojibwe culture, I included several details. For instance, out main protagonist changes into her traditional ribbon skirt as she rallies her people."
Charlie: If people are already trying to write the Standing Rock protests out of history this book will make that harder to do. It's a great book to share.
Ashleigh: I love the last page, an "Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge." I hope all families will explain the importance of their children making the pledge, signing their names and writing the date.
Alexis: I call this period in kidlit the Indigenous New Wave. This book is a centerpiece, both timely and timeless. Shonabish, Ms. Carole and Ms. Michaela! Now I will take a sip of water from a Pueblo mug my friend Ms. Debbie sent me and Mom laid out on the windowsill to refresh me from this work and remember where we come from.