The Gathering Tree, a children’s book about HIV awareness
By Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden
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Tyler dreams of running marathons like his older cousin Robert.
So when Robert arrives on the bus for the annual First Nations gathering, wearing a cowboy hat and a big smile, eager for his daily run, it’s hard for Tyler to believe his favorite cousin is ill.
At 21, Robert has HIV. By speaking out he hopes he can encourage an awareness of AIDS among the First Nations community.
That’s the set-up for The Gathering Tree (Theytus $19.95) co-authored by Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden of Vancouver.
During an outing to the zoo, Robert tells Tyler and his little sister, “I’m just like this tiger…locked up in a cage…We both want to be free but we’re not.”
Robert further explains why he can never be away from the city and his doctors for long periods.
At the rural gathering, under the old tree that had welcomed his people for generations, Robert adds, “I thought I could run through life, winning trophies, partying, and that nothing would ever catch up with me.
“[But to heal] I had to tell the truth and be open to others.”
Later, when Tyler joins in an honor dance to support Robert, he suddenly understands that just be being part of the family, he’s helping Robert stay strong.
With illustrations by award-winning artist Heather D. Holmlund, The Gathering Tree was initiated by Chee Mamuk, an Aboriginal HIV/STI educational program.
Co-author Larry Loyie spent his early years living a traditional Cree life before being placed in residential school. He received the 2001 Canada Post Literacy Award for Individual Achievement and is the author of Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for Us), a play about residential school, as well as the children’s book As Long as the Rivers Flow (Groundwood).
BC Studies: No. 150,
The Gathering Tree tells the story of Robert, a young First Nations man, who comes home to his village to help his people understand the truth about HIV. Robert’s young cousins don’t understand why their friends are not allowed to play with them while Robert is visiting, and can hardly believe that Robert is sick when he looks so well. This beautifully illustrated book was created to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS among young people, in the hope that it will help them avoid becoming infected with this preventable disease. Factual information about HIV/AIDS is presented in questions and answer format at the end of the story.
November is once again, a busy month at your local library…you may want to pick up a good book or two. “The Gathering Tree” by award-winning author, Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden, is a new, and up-to-date resource book for schools and communities featuring the gently told story of a First Nations family who are dealing with HIV/AIDS.
This wonderful little book has been recently launched by Chee Mamuk, the aboriginal HIV education program of the BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the provincial Health Services Authority.
Review by Gail de Vos. ** / 4 Recommended
The Gathering Tree by Larry Loyie (Theytus Books) was initiated by Chee Mamuk, an organization that provides aboriginal communities with culturally appropriate education about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and there is a long list of advisors at the back of the book.
The purpose of the book is to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Native communities; with all these people involved one might expect the book to be heavy with important messages, but Loyie and his co-writer, Constance Brissenden, have created a simple, believable story about Robert, a young man with HIV who returns to his Native community to attend a gathering and to speak to his people about his disease.
The two children in the story learn about traditional Native culture while they learn about Robert’s modern disease. The story is illustrated with luscious acrylic paintings by Heather D. Holmlund that make you feel like you’re right there with the kids, beside the river, smelling the cedar boughs and eating fresh salmon.
— By Patty Osborne