Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit, and Native American Representation in Children’s Literature

by Sylvie Côté

Wab Kinew voices concern over Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit, and Native American representation in literature at his book launch for Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes, a picture book he wrote for his children. Happily, many children and their parents attended the event while we listened to Kinew read his work aloud, alongside illustrations from the book designed by Joe Morse. Kinew wrote the rhyming rap lyrics to inspire young Indigenous peoples, with the refrain being: “We are people who matter, yes, it’s true; now let’s show the world what people who matter can do.”

His inspiration for the story, or “genesis” of the rap-turned-picture-book, is Jim Thorpe. Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox nation, was the first Native American man to receive an Olympic gold medal for the United States. According to Kinew, Thorpe ran home from boarding school three times, and then his father sat him down and said that Jim needed to go to school and show the world what Native American people can do. Thus, Kinew shows the many successes of Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit, and Native American people in his book.

Kinew followed his reading by providing details about the many people he thought of as historical and contemporary Indigenous heroes, ensuring a balanced representation of Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit, and Native American communities, gender, and achievements. Kinew made a point of providing diverse or equal representations to show that any Indigenous child, from any background, not only matters, but can achieve success. Whatever that looks like for them—such as becoming a soldier, a professional athlete, a writer (shout-out to our hometown Métis writer Beatrice Moisioner’s, In Search of April Raintree!), a doctor, an astronaut, or a leader and war chief—is possible. These uplifting and inspirational representations are so important because history has been and is still whitewashed, and Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit, and Native American people’s achievements have not received their proper due.

A slideshow was included with beautiful illustrations from the book, again designed by Joe Morse. Kinew knew Morse would illustrate his lyrics because the author wanted the focus of the illustrations to be of his heroes’ faces, which he found in Morse’s portfolio. Kinew explains how one illustration, drawn in the likeness of Standing Rock, which Kinew and friends visited at the time, was the most emotionally impactful page of the book. He asserts that Native Americans lead the movement, at the front lines, but also in the framework that the movement operated under: Indigenous values. For instance, some of the signs in the illustration read “Water is life” and “No DAPL”; Kinew believes that those who have lived longest in North America, and who offered space for immigrants to live here, should have a say in environmental issues concerning climate change.

The hour-long event concluded with a Q&A, wherein Kinew answered questions regarding diversity and representation, providing age-appropriate material for teachers and students, as well as the importance of including biographical information about each person in the story. Kinew ended the event by saying the story may evolve onto the social media platform YouTube, and that he hopes to write another book, though for young adults instead. On the whole, Kinew emphasizes that his story is an opportunity to open discussion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, saying we all share a connection to the land.