Special to Indian Country Today
It had been too long since Raeann Brown had been home and she wanted to keep her children connected to their Indigenous community.
The Inuk from Nunatsiavut was always a storyteller who enjoyed creating stories and bringing them to life with doodles and sketches. It wasn't something that she took very seriously, however, as she focused instead on building her business and her young family.
She had been planning a trip to her traditional home on the northeast coast of Newfoundland with her family when the pandemic hit. When the world stopped, she began to look once again at her passion for telling stories.
“I got the opportunity, I guess, to sit down and be creative again,“ she told Indian Country Today from her home in Labrador City, Newfoundland, Canada. “Everything kind of stopped. My daughters are small. So I thought, what better way (than) to put Nunatsiavut in a story for them?”
The resulting children’s book, “Bedtime in Nunatsiavut,” is being published by Arsenal Pulp Press and will be available on April 26.
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A mother’s tale
The tale revolves around an Inuk mother talking to her son at bedtime and the power of dreams.
As the child imagines flying like a bird he can also see their home and family far away. It is illustrated by Brown’s fanciful illustrations that highlight the natural beauty of her home territory and the close connection between mother and child.
The story features the Northern Lights, which are prominent in Northern communities where there are no roads or street lights. The celestial phenomena are important in traditional Inuk legends and stories. Brown also took inspiration from the night sky.
“The Northern Lights always seem to make their way into anything that I did – just, I guess, being from Nunatsiavut,” she said. “When I was younger it felt like you can literally touch the Northern Lights, how close they felt. To me, they're just really significant even now and in most everything that I do art wise the Northern Lights always make their way into my paintings or my writing.”
As the story was created, Brown began to sketch illustrations and then printed off her own pages for a makeshift book.
“I read it to my daughters, and after a while they started to memorize those words,” she said. “So I knew that I had something that not just my children would enjoy, but other children as well.”
She submitted her work into the short story contest for the CBC Literary Prize, a prominent award that is handed out by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canada Council for the Arts. The story made the shortlist, and soon after she heard from publishers interested in turning her story into a book
“I had completely forgotten all about it because so much time had passed,” she said. “I hadn't heard anything. I didn't even know if my email had made it to the correct place.”
The CBC’s annual prizewinners have the work published, receive a writing residency in Banff, Alberta, and win a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.
No dreams too big
The book has a teaching element that is sure to benefit Inuk learners specifically, but also anyone who is interested in the incredible regional and cultural diversity of Indigenous peoples.
It includes a map of the region on Canada’s northeastern shore as well as a glossary of the Inuttut words in the book.
“I think that when, like so many parents all over the world, we sit down at night and we read our children bedtime stories and again (as) children, we all have these dreams and we wonder what it would be like to turn into something different,” she said.
“The universal part in the book is the love and the ability for children to dream,” she said. “There's no such thing as too big.”
For more info
The children’s book, “Bedtime in Nunatsiavut,” by Inuk author Raeann Brown, is available for order from Arsenal Pulp Press in Canada for release on April 26. It will be available in the U.S. in June and will be distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution.
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