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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Secret of Your Name, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Dennis Weber. Red Deer Press, 2009. $24.95 ages 10 and up

"The secret of your name is out
I finally know my heritage
It has taken almost fifty years
To come to learn of you."

This is exactly the book needed to encourage middle graders and high school students to begin to explore the history of the Metis people. It would be a welcome readaloud in intermediate classrooms as well. David tells the story (a piece of his own personal history), Dennis Weber's striking illustrations give life and meaning to the beautiful words and John Arcand provides musical accompaniment. It is a wonderful collaboration!

It is interesting to note that Dennis Weber is directly related to Metis leader Louis Riel, known as the father of Manitoba and a noted poet himself.  In 1885 he is quoted as saying:" "Our People will sleep for a hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who bring back their culture."

The cover shows David in a vintage Hudson's Bay Company blanket coat that is so familiar to Canadian culture. The reflected image in a hollowed-out log is that of his grandmother (you can find her picture on David's website) and is an apt metaphor for the story itself. He did not know about his grandmother for many years, and this book pays homage to her memory and sadness at not knowing about her earlier than he did.

There is much here to discover about Canada's history and the interaction between the European settlers and the established aboriginal community. Today's Metis work hard to teach their children the language and culture of their ancestors. Michif is the language, and is said to be a blend of Cree and French. It is experiencing a resurgence in interest.

David is proud of his Metis heritage and honors his ancestors with his story. It is an apology of sorts, for not knowing more at an earlier age. Many Metis were encouraged to be ashamed of their ancestry in earlier times; now, they are searching for the names of their forebears who became part of a predominantly white culture. David's grandmothers were Anishnaabe, Chippewa, Menominee and Innu. He honors them today as he searches for his roots and passes on what he is learning to his readers.

The CD that accompanies the story includes a reading in English by the author, fiddle, pipe and drum music led by John Arcand and a second reading in the Michif language by Norman Fleury, a Manitoba resident. It is a winning mix of text, art, music, and the oral tradition of the Metis nation.
Written in four line stanzas, this is poetry that is part memory, part regret, and part hope for the future of Metis story, culture and song.

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