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Authors: Deborah Ellis

Looks Like Daylight

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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Foreword by Loriene Roy

Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press

Toronto Berkeley

Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Ellis
Foreword copyright © 2013 by Loriene Roy

Photo credits: Pages 54 and 56, Alvin John; pages 132 and 133, Liza Holly; page 207, Rachael Waller Photography; page 218, Kara Briggs; pages 41, 83, 91, 97, 117, 118 and 130, courtesy of the children's families. All other photographs courtesy of the author.

Published in Canada and the USA in 2013 by Groundwood Books

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal. Please do not participate in electronic piracy of copyrighted material; purchase only authorized electronic editions. We appreciate your support of the author's rights.

Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801, Toronto, Ontario M5V 2K4
or c/o Publishers Group West
1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) and the Ontario Arts Council.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Ellis, Deborah
Looks like daylight : voices of indigenous kids / written
by Deborah Ellis ; foreword by Loriene Roy.

Electronic monograph in HTML format. I
ssued also in print format.
ISBN 978-1-55498-413-8

1. Indian children—North America—Juvenile literature.
2. Native children—Canada—Juvenile literature. I. Title.

E98.C5E55 2013 j305.23089'97 C2013-900401-7

Cover photographs: Frames from
Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan
(“We will again open this container of wisdom that has been left in our care”), a two-part video by Nicholas Galanin, 2011,

Design by Michael Solomon

All royalties from the sale of this book will go to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which supports and advocates for indigenous youth, including those in foster care. Their vision is a generation of First Nations children who have the same opportunities to succeed, celebrate their culture and be proud of who they are as any other children in Canada.

First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

309 Cooper Street, Suite 401

Ottawa, Ontario Canada K2P 0G5


[email protected]

Think not of yourselves, O Chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of continuing generations of our families. Think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.

Peacemaker, founder of the Iroquois Confederacy


Indigenous peoples are still here, as the stories of these forty-five young people attest. These are the children of the Blackfoot, Choctaw, Cree, Haida Gwaii, Inuit, Lakota, Métis, Nez Perce, Ojibwe, Mi'kmaq, Navajo, Pueblo of Laguna, Pueblo of Santo Domingo, Seminole, and other American Indian and First Nations people. These are also children of mixed or blended heritage. They live in the urban cities of St. Paul, Toronto and Ottawa, on the pueblos of New Mexico, in the Everglades, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in Nunavut, on traditional homelands, reservations and reserves across Canada and the United States. Their parents or caretakers are close or distant, loving or aloof, known or unknown, admired, acknowledged, forgiven — but not forgotten.

These are the stories of young people who have inherited the challenges of colonialism. These challenges of family dissolution, family/intimate partner violence, diabetes, alcoholism/drug abuse, foster care, bullying, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), self-abuse and suicide are the outcomes of the efforts of majority cultures to abolish traditional lifeways. These young people have faced new challenges that came with the elements and by human hand — floods, hailstorms, mold, petrochemical poisons.

Yet they live and, often, thrive.

As students, they participate in the life of school days and in the sports of cross country, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, skateboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, swimming and in choir, science classes, student council and Future Business Leaders of America. Many mention reading as a favorite activity.

As Indigenous students they also learn, participate in and long for their cultural traditions. They are Hoop dancers, Fancy dancers, Jingle dancers and drummers at powwows. They are artists who carve or use traditional materials to weave baskets or use Lego to create contemporary statements. They hunt, gather from the sea, study and speak their Indigenous languages and participate in moose and goose calling. They eat the raw meat of newly killed four-footed creatures, and octopus, crabs, sea urchins and mushrooms.

Their bodies are not perfect. They have autism, learning differences, and many are marked by the true disabilities of contemporary Native life — alcoholism and diabetes. At age fifteen they can already choose to leave a life of drugs to embrace a new future. They acknowledge the grief of loss of language and traditional education models. They long for the simple gifts of modern life — a place to study and read, a place to cook. They seek out their sanctuaries and places of honesty such as the Native friendship centers where they find guitar lessons and support groups. They help us see that even within the stress of contemporary life, there is a place for ceremony, whether it is time on the land or the ritual ceremonies of the Full Moon, the Dark Moon, or prayer.

They are junior elders and they relate their tribal histories and modern political issues extending from the Seminole Wars; the hanging of Dakota men during the US Civil War; the Wounded Knee of 1890; the life and death of Métis leader Louis Riel; boarding/residential schools; Wounded Knee II and the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the 1970s up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

They give us advice:

  • “It's your life. Find people who will help you live it.”
  • “If we don't take care of the earth there will be nothing left but mocking silence for what we could have saved.”
  • “My advice to other Native kids is to keep on going to cultural things. Even if you don't see the point right away. The culture will keep you clean and safe. It will give you something to do that's important, with people who really want you to do well...”
  • “If the white world thinks Native kids are worthless, then the best answer we can give them is to become the best — the best athletes, the best scholars, the best lawyers, the best parents — whatever. Not for them. For ourselves. To protect ourselves from all those negative messages.”
  • “Anger is useful only if you use it to get yourself to do something positive.”

They understand Indigenous lifestyles:

  • “We don't have a problem with secrets. People here look after each other. There's always an open door. If you really don't want to be at home, someone will take you in.”
  • “Native youth are hungry to be connected to something. They can find that connection here, and in the traditions of their own communities. Sometimes they have to go looking for it, but as long as they believe it's out there, they'll find it.”

And they are hopeful for their futures and the futures of their peoples. They are social activists already, launching and sustaining anti-smoking campaigns, volunteering at the humane society, or speaking and singing at rallies protesting pipelines or at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. They participate in competitions and organizations that are today's equivalent of tribal societies, such as a local American Idol competition, art festivals, Special Olympics, national science fairs, the UNITY conference and the air cadets. They create, and already are writing and acting, recording music, appearing in movies and performing at the Winter Olympics. They already are the leaders — the eleven-year-old who speaks at international gatherings, the UNITY conference leader, and the Cherokee National Youth Choir member.

And they are teaching us to dream — dreams tempered with reality and with the need to connect and serve: “If I had all the power in the universe, I'd take away the chemical plants, make the reserve a bit bigger and have everything clean and good again.”

They see a place for themselves through possible careers in the military; as police officers; counselors for the addicted, victims of sexual assault or those with mental illnesses; as daycare workers, high-school math teachers, scientists, business owners, pilots, bakers, horse trainers or big-cat specialists.

Some have an optimism that doesn't deny the dark side of life: “There are big problems, but small bits of light can help.” Some of the lives are less optimistic, as we hear from Native youth in a drug treatment center and a youth prison. However, there are those who are turning their lives around through initiatives such as the Southwest Conservation Corps' Ancestral Lands Office and the Bringing Back the Horses project.

To some, the future is wide open. The message may not be, to all, that it gets better, but that staying strong in one's Indigenous past and present is the best of all worlds: “We're going to keep moving forward. It's on us now.”

And to all, the message extends beyond their own lives and experiences: “What we do, we do for the Native youth who will follow us, seven generations from now.”

Loriene Roy

Author's Note

In the United States, 3.08 million people identify themselves as Indigenous. There are 565 federally recognized tribes. In Canada, there are 617 First Nations communities representing more than fifty nations. Life expectancy for Indigenous people in North America is still ten years less than that of their non-Indigenous counterparts. Indigenous people are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to get tuberculosis, more likely to die as infants and less likely to go to university.

But statistics don't tell us everything.

They don't tell us about the healing that is being done, about the books that are being written, the music being recorded, the languages being revived and the families who are rediscovering each other.

Statistics don't tell us about the kids who are learning from the struggle and courage of the people who went before them, about the countless hours spent in community organizing, and about the determination to create a better future that will honor the pain of the past.

This book includes a small sample of these kids.

Most of the interviews were conducted in person. A few were done over the phone. Generous families and community leaders all over North America allowed me into their homes, their schools, community centers and churches. It was a privilege to meet them and to be able to record the words of their children.

This book is not intended to be a comprehensive look at the situations faced by Indigenous youth today. Large sections of the community, such as the First Nations of Quebec, the California Mission Indians and the Indigenous peoples of Alaska and Hawaii, are not represented — not because of a lack of importance but because of the limitations of a single book.

During my writing career I have been able to meet with kids around the world whose lives have been turned upside down by people with money, power and education who ought to know better. Always, I have been enlightened by what these young people have to say. My heritage is English, Scottish and Irish, which means that there are things I simply cannot understand. The children in this book have a strong grasp of history, a clear understanding of the world around them and a hopeful vision of what the future could be.

I hope that everyone who reads this book will come away with a better understanding of the tremendous wealth of talent these eloquent young people can bring to the world.

Deborah Ellis

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
9.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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