'To help children make sense of the world': How a Sask. children's author is sharing Métis culture
SASKATOON -- A local author is aiming to pass down Métis culture and traditions through the publishing of his children’s books.
"All of them are to help children make sense of the world," said Métis author Wilfred Burton.
Burton began teaching in 1979, and noticed his students were more interested in learning stories about local people and history.
"I just found that their voices were so much more engaging than the voices of, sort of mainstream library books that they couldn't relate to, just as I couldn't relate to the books when I was growing up."
Burton now integrates different aspects of Métis culture, tradition, and history into all of his writing, with his first book ‘The Fiddle Dancer’ getting published in 2007.
"Some of the other stories I write are from personal experience, my own family's stories, as in the Fiddle Dancer series. Some of them are just tidbits or ideas that have emerged and I go ‘oh that would make a really good kid's story,'" he said.
His books are published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI), whose mission is to promote the renewal and development of Métis culture.
"We get our books into many libraries like across the province, even across Canada," said GDI curriculum developer David Morin.
“We know that there's a lack of diversity in libraries, and so by creating this work and filling those bookshelves in those classrooms the children can see themselves, and that's very empowering.”
Samson LaMontagne teaches Michif at St. Michael’s Community School in Saskatoon, the traditional language some Métis spoke.
LaMontagne says Michif is best described as a combination of French nouns and Cree verbs.
LaMontagne, who is also a Métis education program leader with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, says he sees firsthand the impact the books can have on children.
"It's great to hear them retell stories that they've heard, or to say Michif words that might be incorporated into the stories as well, because language is very much a big part of culture,” he said.
"It's awesome to have authors and our knowledge keepers to step up and write these stories and make them available for teachers to use," LaMontagne said
Burton hopes his work helps introduces Métis culture and language to a new generation.
“It's critically important that we teach our ways so that they can continue on,” he said.
“What best way is to teach young kids, and then they'll teach their kids and so on, and it will perpetuate the culture, hopefully indefinitely.”