Nipissing First Nation author shares the language in new children’s book

The cover art of the new children’s book, This Is What I’ve Been Told, is by illustrator and author Juliana Armstrong of Nipissing First Nation. – Photo supplied

By Kelly Anne Smith

NIPISSING FIRST NATION—In her new book, This Is What I’ve Been Told – Mii Yi Gaa-Bi-Wiindmaagooyann, author Juliana Armstrong writes, “Throughout my life, I will follow in the footsteps of my Gookmis, learning the ways of our people.”

Speaking from Woodland Public School where she is an Ojibwe Language Teacher, Juliana Armstrong explains the importance of passing on what we have been told.

“With the title, I wanted to pass on what I’ve been told, which is when I go to ceremonies, or any kind of teaching, the Elder usually starts by saying, ‘This is what I’ve been told.’ We don’t usually present as ‘This is a fact. This is the only way.’ It’s, ‘This is what I’ve been told and I acknowledge you may have learned something else, or something similar or something different,’” she explains. “I wanted to make sure that the audience knew that this was my perspective. This is what I learned along my journey.”

In a meet-the-author event for the Near North District School Board, Armstrong said her inspiration for the book had to do with who she is and where she has been. She said it started with being born in Attawapiskat First Nation. She has memories of her first four years and says Cree is important in her life still today.

“I named my son Sachiiwin, who is love in Cree, to honor those parts of my journey that have Cree relations.”

Armstrong grew up on Christian Island or Beausoleil First Nation and calls it a safe place to have grown up.

“I learned many teachings there, from teachings of the little people, teachings about the land, and teachings about the water. And I even got my spirit name there which is Woman of the Deep Blue Water. Now that I’m older, I understand my roles that come with that name.”

In writing her book, Armstrong introduces Anishinaabemowin words and the information that goes with them.

“For example, the word Gookmis. In English, it means a person, the grandmother. But in Ojibwe, Gookmis means a lot more. It could mean someone in the community, an Elder or somebody who is walking beside you in your life and is like a grandmother who cares for you and has those same qualities as a grandmother, who has a significant role.”

Armstrong reads the book to his own family. Although the book is recommended for the 6-to-8 age group, the author says all ages can benefit from it and enjoy it.

“In our culture, we sit in the Lodge at any age, right from when we are in the womb to before we are entering the Western Door. I think of the book that way. We all have something we can take from it,” she notes. “When we are at a teaching, we can hear the same teaching seven times and each time you can get something different from it.”

The book was published in 2021 and has gained widespread appeal.

“It has taken me quite a lot of different places, even if a lot of that is virtually. I’ve got to meet a lot of people. Different projects have come up because of the book.”

She definitely foresees another book coming but can’t divulge details yet.

“I’m super proud and excited that someday my kids will understand it a little bit more and hopefully they will be proud of me as well.”

This Is What I’ve Been Told – Mii Yi Gaa-Bi-Wiindmaagooyann is available at Supplies for the Soul in Nipissing First Nation and on various online stores. The Indigo Love of Reading Foundation will give 1% of net proceeds from This Is What I’ve Been Told – Mii Yi Gaa-Bi-Wiindmaagooyann to help children in high-needs communities.

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