The Great Law put to poetry

BRANTFORD – Prolific Metis author David Bouchard launched his newest creation – The Great Law at the Good Minds book distribution centre and store in the Eagles Nest Plaza in Brantford, Friday afternoon.

Around 50 people attended, which was more than either the author or the host expected, each receiving a complimentary copy, which the author and the book’s illustrator, Raymond Skye, autographed.

Bouchard has been in close collaboration with members of Six Nations to ensure the content was as accurate as it could possibly be, keeping in mind that the style of writing is not the usual prose, but rather the borrowed rhythms of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic 1855 poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.”

Bouchard began the launch by asking those in attendance, “Who do you think the most famous North American Indian in the world is?”

In his world travels promoting the other 52 books he has penned, Bouchard began asking people of other countries that same question.

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The most common answer he would get from around the world was, “Hiawatha,” because of the classic Longfellow poem, which has been translated into many languages.

“When you travel in Haudenosaunee territory, it doesn’t take long to start hearing about the Great Law of Peace,” says Bouchard. “And so when I started to meat Haudenosaunee people, I wanted to know who they were. I began meeting and speaking with your children and your teachers. I soon came to realize, you are different from Ojibwa people and Cree Nations. I never set out to study the Great Law, it came through discovering who these people are.”

He learned more from talking with Haudenosaunee people, and after a chance meeting with the book’s illustrator Raymond Skye, coincidentally, at Good Minds Books almost two years ago, he began to understand the uniqueness of the Haudenosaunee because of the Great Law.

“I can honestly say that if not for meeting Raymond, this book probably would never be,” he said.

Unlike the model poem he uses for his rhythm template, Bouchard insisted that every word in his rendition of the story of the Great Law be as accurate as humanly possible.

Longfellow’s story of Hiawatha is rife with inaccuracies and romantic notions, which reflect very little, if any true depiction of the life and work of Hiawatha and Peacemaker or the Great Law they brought. Bouchard wanted to pay homage to the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee by trying to retain the beauty of the poem, but at the same time introduce his worldwide readers to the truth of the Great Law and how it came to be.

For this, he needed more help, so he recruited a friend of Skye – Mohawk language teacher Frank Miller – and others to fact check and edit his work as it progressed.

“Every time I have done books, I have had edits,” Bouchard told the gathering. “But never have I tripled the number of edits I have done for this one.”

The research work began as about a 600-page document before being trimmed, edited, and tightened down to its final 35 pages, including illustrations.

As a former principal and educator, the Order of Canada recipient is trying to appeal to all ages and nationalities with The Great Law, especially when re-writing a classic epic like “The Song of Hiawatha.”

He also gave high praise to Mohawk language instructor Frank Miller, whom he met through Skye. Unfortunately, Miller could not attend the book launch. Jeff Burnham, owner of Good Minds, he has known for several years as his distributor for this other educational works.

“I don’t know if you realize what a gift Jeff is to Aboriginal children and educators,” he said of Burnham. “His company is the biggest distributor of indigenous books not only in Canada, but in the world.”

Bouchard’s The Great Law is also available in audio/video format in both Mohawk and English by uncovering a patch located in the book’s front cover, which leads to his interactive website. On it, you will also hear Bouchard’s own haunting flute playing underscore the story and songs by Joanne L. Shenandoah.

The Great Law is available through Good Minds Book Distributors.

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