This Indigenous Author and Artist Team Have an Important Message

DYNAMIC DUO At the end of January, Michaela Goade became the first Indigenous artist to win the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is one of the most illustrious distinctions awarded for children’s books — the literary equivalent of an Oscar, with a gold seal instead of a statuette.

Goade, who is a member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, earned the distinction for “We Are Water Protectors,” a picture book about the importance of safeguarding natural resources. Her vibrant, intricately detailed watercolors illuminate lyrical text by Carole Lindstrom, who is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.

In a Google Hangout, Lindstrom said it was important to her to find an Indigenous artist to illustrate her message, which was inspired by the movement at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access pipeline. “I wanted people to know what was going on,” she recalled. “I did what I could on social media but then thought, maybe I should write a book. I had no idea the message would be embraced by young and old people alike.” The book recently appeared on the children’s picture book list.

“We fight for those / Who cannot fight for themselves,” Lindstrom writes over several pages, “The winged ones, / The crawling ones, / The four-legged, / The two-legged, / The plants, trees, rivers, lakes, / The Earth. We are all related.” This reminder ends on a spread in which watercolor silhouettes of continents are overlaid with vines and flowers and the planet is encircled by a procession of creatures: a jellyfish following a lizard, a pair of humans walking hand in hand between a bear and a fox. The effect is both meditative and joyous.

Lindstrom said she purposely wrote in spare language: “I don’t like a lot of words. I like to leave a lot of room for imagination.”

Her approach instantly inspired Goade when the two were introduced. They share similar goals for the book; as Goade put it, “For Native children, I hope they come away feeling seen and valued and that they know their stories and experiences are incredibly important. I hope this book helps all readers feel connected to the land and to each other, and helps us to think about how we are all in a relationship with the land and its water.”

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