North America has many different native cultures from the Arctic to South Mexico, and from the West Coast across to the East Coast. Where to start, and how to write up one blog post on Native American cultures when there are entire university degrees about any one of these interesting and diverse cultures? The children’s book The Elders Are Watching is a good place to begin.
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One theme that runs through Native American cultures is respect for elders and for their knowledge and wisdom, knowledge that has been passed down for centuries through storytelling.
Respect for the earth is a big part of Native American cultures – to take from the earth only what you truly need, and not be wasteful. This advice has not been heeded and has led to dire consequences with overfishing, overgrazing, and polluting the earth. Many species have met extinction, and many more are currently on the endangered list.
Much of the oral history of Native American cultures has been lost over the last century through assimilation, residential schools, and other means. The Elders Are Watching, by David Bouchard is bringing the message of respect for the earth back to the youth of today.
Ya-A looked like most of the kids in school, but he felt different. Each year his mother would take him out of school for a while to visit his grandfather. To listen, learn, and think. His grandfather told Ya-A many stories , but his favourites were about the elders. After a time, he began to see the elders in the sky, near the setting sun. He heard the elders speak to him. This is their story.
The elders are disappointed that humans promised to be mindful of the earth and all of its resources and did not keep their promise.
You promised you’d care for the cedar and fir,
The mountains, the sea, and the sky.
To the Elders these things are the essence of life.
Without them a people will die.
The elders explain how they’re feeling through Bouchard’s verse. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The book continues on with the elders saying that they’ve seen how things are beginning to change. That humanity is finally starting to take a stand and is trying to put things right and get more balance into the equation.
They told me to tell you the time is now.
They want you to know how they feel.
So listen carefully, look toward the sun.
The Elders are watching.
The message is simple, and delivered beautifully in this poem. The illustrations by Roy Henry Vickers are beautiful in their West Coast style. My children enjoyed picking out the ‘hidden’ images in the pictures. They were also inspired to recreate a couple of the pieces themselves.
We’ve really enjoyed reading this book, and it is a part of our growing collection of books by David Bouchard. He grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada and has inspired many people through his teaching and musical abilities. He was a teacher at my school for a couple of years. Sadly, he moved on before I was in his class, but I recall listening to him play guitar and sing during recess when it was just too cold to go outside at -40C. He now lives in British Columbia and travels around giving inspiring talks to children across Canada. He’s written several books, and every one I’ve read is unique and beautiful.
Welcome to our second annual celebration of Native American Heritage Month! All month long we’ll be sharing posts about sharing these rich cultures with kids. This month we are also exploring the Indigenous Cultures of North America as part of our Global Learning Series. Find our full schedule of posts below, and don’t forget to link up your own as well! You can also enter our big giveaway below! Find even more ideas on our Native/Indigenous Cultures Pinterest board.
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