‘Water Protectors’ author & illustrator share story of Caldecott winning picture book – BG Independent News

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Carole Lindstrom was concerned in fall 2016 about the news coming back from the region where she was raised. A citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe who grew up in Nebraska, the writer, now living in Maryland, was hearing reports of the increasing tensions between indigenous people at the Standing Rock Reservation and the crews cutting though the land to construct the Dakota Access Oil Pipelines. Not enough attention was being paid to the conflict, she told an audience at the Wood County District Public Library Saturday morning.

The pipeline was originally supposed to run from North Dakota, through an area just north of Bismarck, South Dakota, a region predominantly populated by White residents. Then it was rerouted through land occupied by the Sioux and under Lake Oahe, which is sacred to native people. The protest started with one woman sitting in the path of the construction to protect the graves of her family from her.

Carole Lindstrom reads ‘We Are Water Protectors’ at the Wood County District Public Library.

The protests expanded, attracting indigenous people, not just from North America, but around the world, including Sami from Lapland.

The reaction to the protests was becoming more and more militarized with the protestors waving feathers, a sign of peaceful resistance, in the face of attack dogs, armored-clad officers firing rubber bullets and sound cannons. A friend, Lindstrom said, was blinded in one eye by a rubber projectile.

The protestors at Standing Rock were there “to defend our land, your land, everybody’s land and water,” she said. “Water is life, and we must protect it.”

With an 8-year-old son, she was unable to join the protests. She did attend, with her son de ella, demonstrations in Washington DC

But Lindstrom wanted to do more. She could tell the story.

That story started as a novel for young adults, but with it halfway done, she had a sense of urgency to finish something more quickly. Her literary agent suggested a picture book. Lindstrom worked on that but again narrative seemed to slog. Then her agent suggested she write a more impressionistic, more poetic, text.

The writer balked; she’d never done anything in that style. “Give it three days,” her agent said.

In that period Lindstrom wrote the text for “We Are Water Protectors.” The story starts with an ancient prophecy of a black snake that will cut through and destroy the land. The pipeline is that legend come to life. The book calls on readers to fight the black snake and its destruction.

“We Are Water Protectors” went on to win the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal for the illustrations created by Michaela Goade, an artist and member of the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Michaela Goade superimposes her drawings against the seascape near her Alaska home.

Lindstrom and Goade were guests of BGSU’s “In the Round,” a six-part speaker series featuring indigenous creatives. Lindstrom was in Bowling Green in person while Goade appeared virtually from her home in Alaska. They spoke about their work both at the library and on campus Friday night. Lindstrom also visited BGSU classes during the day Friday.

At first, Goade said she wasn’t sure she was the right illustrator for the project.

She is from a different native tradition. “I didn’t want to unknowingly make mistakes or disrespect anyone,” she said. “I wanted to honor the water protectors and have them feel they were reflected authentically.”

In the end, she felt growing up where she did that “I could bring some important perspective” to the story. “The ocean, the water, our relationship to the land are really, really important to me.”

As with any project Gode did a lot of research. She studied photographs of the protests. She studied the graphic material created to promote opposition to the pipeline. She looked at beading and other traditional arts.

Goade wanted to communicate the conflicting emotions – heartbreak and anger, but also hope and love – evident in the camps at Standing Rock. She wanted to reflect the diversity of people gathered at Standing Rock.

The illustrations are full of details that are infused with meaning that will speak to indigenous readers and make them feel “seen and heard,” as well as connecting to a wider audience.

She went through the process of making the book from sketches to constructing story boards to the final watercolors.

Watercolor, she noted, is her preferred medium, and it also fits the theme of the book.

Her final paintings are sent digitally to the publisher, and then she receives digital proofs. Goade said that making sure the colors are correctly rendered can be an arduous process.

Both she and Lindstrom were surprised that “We Are Water Protectors” received the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award in picture books.

Two members of the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal Selection Committee came to Bowling Green for the ‘We Are Water Protectors’ presentation. Mary Schreiber, middle, of the Cuyahoga Public Library, and Brenda Dale, right, professor emerita from Miami University, had not had a chance to meet winning illustrator Michaela Goade, on screen at left.

Goade said she noticed the reviews, and the increased online discussion of the book. It was mentioned in forums as a possible Caldecott winner. Still when the news was delivered over Zoom she said she felt cold all over.

Goade has recently finished her first book in which she’s written the story as well as done the illustration. “Berry Song” will be published later this year.

Youth Services Coordinator Maria Simon said “We Are Water Protectors” has been used to inspire young local artists. They created a mosaic in the style of Goade’s illustrations that urges viewers to “Take Courage!” The mosaic hung behind the podium in the library atrium where Lindstrom spoke. And they made a quilt of drawings inspired by the Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge in the book.

The water theme, Simon said, continue to flow into summer when reading program will be “Oceans of Possibilities.”

A portion of quilt of drawings inspired by ‘We Are Water Protectors.’

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