When Wendy Stephenson was a teacher in Wekweètì 40 years ago, getting students interested in books was a challenge.
“In the 70s, 80s, there weren’t a lot of materials that were relevant to kids that were living in communities,” she says.
She wrote a handful of children’s books — Randy Raven, Jimmy Jackfish — to try and get the kids interested.
At that time, she also imagined a story about a young girl who wants to go sliding with her friends. Unfortunately, she’s too busy to play, but her friends the raven, Canada jay, weasel and fox overhear her desire for a sled.
Stephenson fell again upon the story last year and has finally published it as a new children’s book called The Missing Caribou Hide.
Translation and legends
The book features passages of Tłı̨chǫ to help young readers learn the words for different animals.
Cecilia Judas, a teacher at Alexis Arrowmaker School, did the translation.
The Judas family has been friends with Stephenson ever since her days teaching in the community.
While Judas has done some translating for books at the school, she’s never had her name on the cover of one before.
“I was so amazed at how it came together,” she says. “As a culture and language teacher, I do a lot of translations for the students and I’m so happy to be involved with this book.”
She said the switch from English to Tłı̨chǫ can be difficult.
“Sometimes when I’m going back and forth between languages, it gets so overwhelming that I start questioning, ‘Did I say this, right?’ and I asked my parents for reassurance.”
But she also says her parents never had to correct her on any mistakes.
Stephenson says the story was inspired by the conversations she heard in the community about the relationship between humans and animals.
“In those days, people really talked about how people and animals talk to each other,” she says. “So I guess that was kind of the theme of the book, people helping each other, animals helping people, people helping animals.”
That relationship is highlighted further at the end of the book, which includes several legends involving different animals.
Judas’s father Joseph shared those traditional legends, like how the whiskey jack stole moose.
“I do a short version and my dad does a long version,” laughs Judas. “There’s legends on all the animals. That’s what I kept saying to my students, just like us we have our our ancestors, even animals have ancestors. So you can’t mock or say anything (bad) about any animals.”
The book was illustrated by Joan Sherman, an artist living in northern Alberta.
While Stephenson says she doesn’t have any current plans for future books, Judas has been inspired to write her own story, this one about the Bush Man.
As to what happens to the missing caribou hide? Well, readers will have to find a copy of the book to find out.
So far, the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency has ordered copies and it is available at the Yellowknife Book Cellar.