M . . . . Volume XX Number 40. . . .June 13, 2014
|Pisim Finds Her Miskanow.|
William Dumas. Illustrated by Leonard Paul.
Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press/Portage & Main Press, 2013.
48 pp., hardcover & pdf, $29.00 (hc.).
ISBN 978-55379-394-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-55379-395-3 (pdf).
Cree Indians-Manitoba-Southern Interlake Region-History-Juvenile fiction.
Cree Indians-Manitoba-Southern Interlake Region-History-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Gail de Vos.
Then he [Wapistan*, the travelling storyteller] told of the stories in the wind that had been travelling around the camps about strange, hairy-faced men who had been sighted at the mouth of the Missinipi**. Wapistan would talk to Mahikanawasis***, the chief of all the minisiwina****, at the Spring Gathering. It was important that he confirm the stories for the people. "What stories have you heard about our camp?" asked Nocokisiw*****. "It is told that one of the Bear women had a hard delivery this winter at Minahikosakahikanihk, Pine Lake. They say Nocokisiw and Pisim walked through the night to help a difficult birth into our world safely." Pisim dropped her eyes. She was Nocokisiw's Observer. She was young, but – maybe—she was on her way to becoming a midwife. That night Pisim went to sleep comfortably in the mikiwap******, the dwelling she shared with her family. (no pagination) Note: The following translations were found in the two-page Cree Glossary at the conclusion of the book. The names are also explained throughout the story in various side bars. * marten ** Big Water ***wolf child **** family *****old lady ****** a birchbark dwelling with a rounded roof
The story of the young girl, Pisim, is a fictionalized account that had its genesis in the discovery of the remains of a young Cree woman at Nagami Bay, South Indian Lake, Manitoba in 1993. In recreating and interpreting a week of the life of this young woman in the mid-1600s, author William Dumas, a Cree Elder, and illustrator Leonard Paul, Mi'kmaq, effectively bring to life the people and setting of that time. The fictionalized narrative is supplemented with illuminating sidebars on Cree language, culture, history as well as the maps and information on the travel routes undertaken by the various characters to the Spring Gathering during the time frame of the story. Source notes and background for the project are provided in the "Introduction" and in the large listing of contributors provided along with the publication information following the glossary.
The advent of the arrival of the storyteller sets the tone of the story as well as the beginning of the physical and psychological journey for the 13-year-old Pisim who is wondering if becoming a midwife is the correct path for her to follow. Her family packs up their belongings to follow the annual series of journeys to the Spring Gathering. As the days and adventures pass, more and more canoes join the convoy, bringing more stories, songs and laughter to the families. The trip is not without danger, however, as Pisim and her younger brother are caught in a severe rain storm while paddling on the river. Safely reaching shore propels her into another adventure when her aunt goes into labour. Without the benefit of her midwife teacher, Pisim successfully delivers the baby and understands that her proposed path is indeed the one that she should follow. The episodic story offers background information, excitement and adventure and is warm and satisfying. This reviewer, however, found the supplementary material to overshadow the story but appreciated the total package. Evocative landscapes and portraits bathed in washes of golds, browns and greens splash over the pages in various sizes and shapes, contributing to the reader's insight and understanding of the historical era and setting.
Pisim Finds Her Miskanow is a must addition for all collections of First Nations material in elementary, middle school and junior high libraries as well as public libraries.
Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and San Jose State University. She is the author of nine books on storytelling and folklore.