The Indigenous experience in the world wars

When the Spirits DanceWhen the Spirits Dance: A Cree Boy’s Search for the Meaning of War by award-winning authors Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden is a children’s non-fiction book about a Cree family during the Second World War. Larry Loyie grew up with his extended family in Rabbit Hill in northern Alberta. In 1941, when Larry was eight, the family’s traditional lifestyle was interrupted as the need for an increased Canadian war effort reached Slave Lake in Alberta. The Loyie family understood the call for all able-bodied men to enlist in Canada’s army. Despite the fact that Victor and Marie Loyie had nine children and that Victor had gladly served during the First World War, the Canadian Armed Forces called up the 43-year-old Cree father. The days of living off the bounty of the land with parents and elders teaching the children were over.

This narrative, told through Larry’s eyes, explains how the family rationed food, collected birch sap and waited for any news from the battlefield. The women, their children and the elders had to survive on the scarce game and the rationing of staples such as sugar, butter and tea. Larry helped his family survive without their father by drawing on the traditional knowledge taught by his parents and grandparents. Coming to terms with the uncertainty of war and the fear of losing their father were additional lessons for the children. The family dealt with the threat of army deserters who had escaped in the Slave Lake area, as well. The wisdom of their Kokum and Mosoom helped the family live through the difficult months.

Throughout the story, the authors have woven facts about how the war years changed the life of one Cree community. Teachings about the environment and the vision quest become vital parts of the narrative. The reality of the Second World War is highlighted by the inclusion of black and white family photographs and images of the community in northern Alberta. Colour photographs showing the landscape and the Northern Lights add to the feeling that Mother Earth is central to the story.

This prequel to As Long As the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer Before Residential School is the second book in the Lawrence Series about Larry Loyie’s life. The story contains themes that examine the meaning of war for young children, the contributions made by courageous First Nations veterans, the importance of traditional knowledge and respect for the environment. This unique 42-page title brings to life the impact of World War 2 on First Nations from a personal perspective. When the Spirits Dance is highly recommended for elementary students as well as adult learners.

Scout Tommy PrinceThe Scout: Tommy Prince is one of the titles in Tales from Big Spirit series, a unique six-book graphic novel series that delves into the stories of six great First Nations heroes. Swampy Cree writer David Alexander Robertson is the author of all six titles. Designed to correspond to grades 4-6 social studies, these full-colour graphic novels can be used in literature circles, novel studies and book clubs to facilitate discussion of social studies topics. These 30-page books help students make historical connections while promoting important literacy skills.

In The Scout, a search down a wooded path for a well-hit baseball turns into an encounter between Pamela, a First Nation elementary student, and a veteran soldier standing in front of a monument. The statue commemorates the heroism of Sgt. Tommy Prince, the most decorated First Nation soldier in Canada. Pamela is curious, and the veteran is pleased to share the story of the expert Ojibwe marksman and tracker, renowned for his daring and courage in World War 2 and the Korean War. The comic book style provides readers with information about the contributions of First Nations men and women during the Second World War in a format that appeals to even the most reluctant readers.

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