Why Indigenous Representation in Picture Books Matters

IBBY Canada and Communication-Jeunesse co-host their first, bilingual conference

On November 10, 2020, IBBY Canada and Communication-Jeunesse co-hosted a bilingual, virtual event on the importance of representation of Indigenous cultures in picture books. More than 90 participants from across Canada gathered on Zoom to hear educator and best-selling author of I Am Not a Number Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis (Nishnaabe/Nipissing First Nation) in conversation with Monique Gray Smith (Cree, Lakota), award-winning author of such books as My Heart Fills with Happiness, Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation and Tilly and the Crazy Eights.

The two celebrated authors and community leaders talked about the importance of Indigenous picture books written in authentic, respectful ways and how they help readers to see themselves and learn about other communities and the world around them, building empathy and understanding. Monique Gray Smith spoke very powerfully about how Indigenous picture books open hearts and minds, teaching us about the unique cultures, languages and experiences of Indigenous Nations while bridging our shared humanity. She emphasized how important it is for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children to see that Indigenous peoples have both a past and a future as they will be the leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow.

After Gray Smith pointing out that only one percent of children’s books published in North America are by Indigenous authors, Dupuis remarked on the importance of Indigenous  collections like From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books. Dupuis, the co-chair of this IBBY Canada initiative to create a list of recommended Indigenous picture books, emphasized that as writers, publishers, librarians and educators we have a responsibility to ensure that the Indigenous titles we create and share follow protocols, are free of stereotypes, authentically reflecting and upholding the dignity of Indigenous peoples and their responsibilities to their communities and families. Moreover, we need to look at who’s voices and experiences are being omitted and oppressed. We are all accountable for change.

Throughout the presentation Nicholas Aumais, Head of Development for Communication-Jeunesse and IBBY Canada board member, translated the discussion and insights. Huge thanks to everyone who made this event possible, particularly to Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and our honoured guest Monique Gray Smith for sharing their time and expertise and offering so many thoughtful reflections and teachings.

Contributed by Mary Beth Leatherdale

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