As Long as the Rivers Flow
Illustrations by Heather D. Holmlund
Published by Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyreReviews and feature stories from the following publications appear below in whole or in part. These reviews are of interest to educators, readers, librarians, booksellers, friendship centres, residential school committees, universities and colleges, elementary schools, and many others. For more information, contact the authors:
Gr 3-6-Given the appearance in recent years of books about Indian boarding schools, both fiction and nonfiction, this title offers an important perspective on the issue. (Larry) Loyie shares a quiet but powerful first-person account of his last summer before he and his siblings were taken away from their family. Most of the story focuses on what was otherwise a normal seasonal routine for the Cree people of that era, with the family moving from their main cabin to their summer “camp” for a few weeks. Apart from the foreshadowed separation, this particular spring-summer progression was enlivened by the opportunity for the children to care for an orphaned baby owl, and an encounter with one of the biggest grizzly bears ever shot in North America. All of the day-to-day detail, close family bonding, and unexpected adventure draw readers comfortably into 10-year-old Lawrence’s experience so that the final pages are all the more painful. When the children learn that they must got to the residential school or their parents will be imprisoned, and they are physically loaded into the back of a truck by strangers, the sense of separation and loss is keenly felt. (Heather D.) Holmlund’s realistic and detailed watercolors expertly illuminate events throughout the story, in vignettes, plates, and a few full page pictures. The epilogue briefly summarizes the facts about boarding schools in general, highlighting Lawrence’s own experience, and includes several black-and-white photos.
— By Sean George, Memphis-Shelby County Public Library & Information Center, Memphis, TN
“Last month’s finalists for the Norman Fleck Award to Canadian children’s non-fiction (at $10,000 the largest of its kind) were announced. The winner will be made known in early September. (I am honoured to be a member of the jury.)
In the meantime, this cluster of books shows just how wide-ranging and inherently fascinating ‘facts’ can be…
…Cree writer Larry Loyie, with Constance Brissenden, remembers his last summer living a traditional life with his extended family near Slave Lake, Alta., in 1944, in As Long as the Rivers Flow (Groundwood, 40 pages, $18.95, ages 7 to 12). The antics of Ooh-hoo, the family owl, an afternoon spent ‘fooling’ a beaver and the breath-stopping moment when 10-year-old Lawrence and his grandmother meet and shoot an enormous grizzly make for a memorable, sometimes suspenseful summer. But after this time of storytelling, learning and sheer enjoyment with family, Lawrence and his siblings are torn away from their parents and forced to attend residential school-from which the boy won’t return for four years.
Loyie’s precise memory and gentle voice recreate poignantly the innocent interest, the fittingness, of the boy’s involvement in his family’s way of life. The idyllic summer becomes all the more meaningful in the light of its aftermath; the clear colours of Heather Holmlund’s watercolours emphasize the freedom and beauty of Loyie’s life in unspoiled wilderness. Photographs and information in an epilogue give readers historical background, so the emotional strength of the story-like memoir is lined to documentary evidence. A haunting combination of art, story and document…”
— By Deirdre Baker
“…As Long as the Rivers Flow, by Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden and beautiful, realistic illustrations by Heather D. Holmlund, is based on the author’s own life as a 10-year-old. Few, if any accounts of life among the First Nations have given me a better feel for what such a life was actually like. The book describes one boy’s summer in Northern Alberta in 1944. At the end of the summer, Lawrence and his little brothers and sister are taken away in a truck to one of the notorious residential schools.
In an epilogue, there are photographs of the places and people in question and an explanation of what the schools were like and what happened to Lawrence. The book ends on a positive note: “…many First Nations people are now making efforts to heal the pain and learn with pride about a beautiful and free way of life.”
— By Elizabeth Cran
“Loyie remembers himself at 10 years old, happy at home with his large extended Cree family in northern Alberta, Canada. With his father, he cares for an abandoned baby owl. On a camping trip with his grandma, he faces a grizzly bear that suddenly rears up before them on the trail. He learns patience and discipline, and he earns the name Oskiniko, Young Man. But always in the background of this idyllic coming-of-age account is the looming threat of separation, the nightmare the adults are whispering about. At the end of the book, the children must go to boarding school or their parents will be put in prison. “Strange white men” lift the terrified children onto a truck and drive away. Loyie’s quiet words and Holmlund’s authentic watercolour art capture the happy wilderness home without paint-and-feathers pageantry. But readers will want to know more about the school experience and about the story behind the black-and-white photos that are crowded into the short epilogue. What happened to Loyie in those years at school? We need a second book.”
— By Hazel Rochman
“While also a loving and deeply nostalgic tale, Larry Loyie’s autobiographical As Long as the Rivers Flow boasts a deeply tragic twist.
Initially telling the detailed, albeit quotidian, adventures of a First Nations family striking summer camp by Lesser Slave Lake in Northern Alberta, the book ends with young Lawrence and his siblings being wrenched from his rural extended family and trucked off to residential school.
While a shameful chapter in our collective history, the residential school debacle is a tale that all children need to hear sooner than not, and they’re well-served hearing it via a book as humane and empathetic as this tome.”
Kudos as well to the work’s endlessly sensitive prose and visceral watercolours.”
— By Gilbert A. Bouchard
“Love and respect of the people and land in northern Alberta has led to publication of a Pickering artist’s work.
Heather D. Holmlund is the illustrator of the children’s book As Long as the Rivers Flow…
The Pickering resident first came into contact with the book’s authors when they attended one of her art shows three summers ago… During the last couple of hours of the show… they saw Holmlund’s work and immediately contacted her. Their search for an illustrator had begun more than two years before…
‘I spent a lot of time learning about the culture of the Cree people of northern Alberta, their habits, what type of trucks they had, what their utensils would be like, what their blankets were like and what their dress was like,’ she said.
Holmlund examined photograph after photograph of the area, and also relied on her recollection of her own summers in northern Ontario…
Holmlund has received increasing acknowledgement for her work. The book earned her and the authors a spot as guest speakers at the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October.
She also speaks in local schools and works with students to teach beginner artistic skills…”
— By Alison Bell
“In October 2002, I was welcomed back to NITEP (Native Indian Teacher Education Program) and the University of British Columbia as the On-Campus Coordinator. I arrived in my new office and asked myself, ‘Where do I start and what shall I do?’ Yvonne McLeod, NITEP Director, came to welcome me. She gave me some information about a new book by two local authors, Larry Loyie (Cree) and his partner Constance Brissenden. The book, As Long as the Rivers Flow, was about a boy and his last summer before he went to residential school…
On Wednesday, October 23, I arrived at the Arts Club Revue Theatre and listened and watched as the book came alive with co-authors, Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden, and the illustrator of the book, Heather D. Holmlund, and I discovered Larry’s teachings and why he wrote the book. The book educated the reader that it was the grandparents who taught the children traditional life…
During the presentation I also noted other themes from the book that could be developed into (teacher) lessons and unit plans. 1. Science: the near extinction of beavers during the 1940’s. 2. Fine Arts: portraitures, illustrating the tender moments within the family and emphasizing how strong and loving each family member appears. 3. Fine Arts: book covers, the purpose of the cover and what question it sets out in the readers mind. 4. Writing: use of your own life as subject material when writing. For example, As Long as the Rivers Flow is a true story about Larry’s childhood…
After leaving that day, I decided this book was a treasure that was not going to be hidden. I wanted the NITEP students to learn about As Long as the Rivers Flow, so that they could bring this wonderful book into their classroom when they become teachers…”
— By Verena Wilhelmson (with assistance from Jenna Semple)
“‘One little boy told me, ‘I feel proud.’ That’s what it’s all about,’ says Larry Loyie, co-author of As Long as the Rivers Flow (Groundwood). His memoir of life in the mid-1940s in northern Alberta before he and his siblings were sent to residential school, was written to let young people ‘understand that there was a good way of life’ among the Cree before, and even during, the years of the residential school system…
When Loyie and Brissenden talk to children about the book and about Loyie’s childhood, ‘we tell them to read a lot and stay in school.’ Yet he also says that his grandparents gave him the best teaching one could ask for and that this book is a way of honouring them.
Although the narrative reads seamlessly – like a well-crafted piece of fiction – Loyie says that every incident is true and that the only change was a slight telescoping of time. ‘It is not romanticized. I felt good writing this because my grandmother’s teachings were so beautiful…”
— By Gillian O’Reilly
“…for me there is no better way to understand history than to read about it in a good story that shows you what it was like to be alive back then… In As Long as the Rivers Flow (Groundwood), Larry Loyie, a Cree from Alberta, describes his life in Slave Lake, and Heather D. Holmlund adds luscious full-colour illustrations…
As Long as the Rivers Flow tells of a loving family in a happy time, with background whispers of a school far away and of a prison where parents who do not send their children to the school are sent. The story ends with Larry and his siblings in tears as they are loaded into the back of a truck and driven away from their parents, but the narration of even this trauma is straightforward and matter-of-fact – free of unnecessary comment. Once my emotions had been stirred up by this simple story, I was eager to read the epilogue, which consists of photos and a short description of life at St. Bernard’s Mission residential school.”
— By Patty Osborne
Michelle Landsberg, one of CBC’s panel of book experts, recommended As Long as the Rivers Flow as a great children’s book, perfect for summer reading.
Tansi (Jan.15-Feb.14, 2003)
“This beautifully illustrated book brings to life the last free summer of the childhood of author Larry Loyie before being shipped off to St. Bernard’s Mission residential school in the fall of 1944 with his younger siblings. The teachings, stories and lessons contained in this 44-p book are reminiscent of the teachings one would receive from a loved and trusted Elder in one’s family.
The strength of many Aboriginal communites was the extended family. Here, firsthand, the reader learns how aunties, uncles, kokums and mosooms had a role in teaching children and youth about the way of life of the Northern Cree in Alberta.
The title of the book takes its name from one of Loyie’s Grandfather’s teachings. In the book, the Grandfather tells the children
‘as long as the rivers flow, this land is ours.’ There is more to this teaching that the reader will learn. The teaching about Ooh-Hoo is a valuable lesson urban Aboriginal youth need too about about our stewardship of Mother Earth and her resources.
Heather Holmlund has done a masterful job at illustrating the book with living images in water colours vivid and bright. The attention to detail is fantastic.
Constance Brissenden assisted Loyie in getting his story to print. While adults would have to read to children aged five and up, older children (10+) will be fascinated by the illustrations and the story on their own. There is a lot adults could learn from this gem. Libraries across Canada and the United States plus those in Aboriginal communities should carry this wonderful book.
It comes with an epilogue with family pictures that leaves the reader wondering if Loyie should tackle the residential school experience in an adult contemporary read.”
— By Dennis Stark, Tansi Editor
Windspeaker (Dec. 2002
“As Long as the Rivers Flow is a poignant story of a ‘golden Indian summer’ in 1944 and how good it was to be a young Cree boy living a traditional life with his family on Slave Lake in northern Alberta.
It is a magical childhood for 10-year-old Lawrence, living in a log cabin, eating rich rabbit stew, fishing and camping on the banks of a wide river, playing hard with friends and working hard to learn the skills his parents are teaching him.
Lawrence has a baby owl named Ooh-Hoo, orphaned after falling out of his nest near a trapline. Lawrence’s papa brought the little creature home to teach his children how to care for a wild thing until it could survive on its own.
Frustrated that he is not old enough to join a real hunting expedition, Lawrence learns to stalk a beaver by camouflaging himself in the tall grass on the riverbank.
A close encounter with a grizzly bear almost ends in disaster, but the quick thinking of his grandmother saves both lives. She teaches Lawrence how to use every part of the bear, including the meat, grease, claws, teeth and the hide, which is made into a prize rug.
A Cree naming ceremony is held to commemorate Lawrence’s bravery and his family’s pride that he has become Oskiniko, a fine young man.
With fingers stained purple from the sweet juice of Saskatoon berries and chokecherries, the children gather around the evening fire to hear stories of the old days and learn from their Elders.
This most wonderful of all childhoods ends abruptly when the children are taken away in a truck by scary looking men in black who resemble ‘giant crows’ to attend residential school far away.
Terrified and fearful, Lawrence and his brothers and sister find themselves ripped from their secure, cozy nest and, like the baby owl, have no parents to watch over them.
As Long as the Rivers Flow ends with a short history describing the harsh realities of residential school life and a collection of black and white photos, circa 1944, of author Lawrence (Larry) Loyie and his brothers, sisters and the nuns and priests at St. Bernard’s Mission in northern Alberta.
Lavishly illustrated with quiet, subtle watercolor paintings on every page, this bittersweet story is as beautifully told in pictures as it is in words.
Loyie, winner of the 2001 Canada Post Literacy Award for Individual Achievement, has penned a small masterpiece of unsentimental storytelling that bridges the richness of traditional Cree culture with the intergenerational havoc wrecked upon Native people by the residential school system. Highly recommended reading.”
— By Pamela Sexsmith
CBC Radio 1, North by Northwest (Sept. 29, 2002)
“A wonderful story of a way of life…It’s a beautiful, illustrated little slice of Larry Loyie’s life before he went to residential school…”
— By Sheryl MacKay, broadcaster
Quill & Quire (Nov. 1, 2002): Books for Young People
“This affectionate memoir is a welcome and discussion-provoking addition to the growing body of native literature for children. Set in 1944, it recreates the summer Lawrence Loyie was 10 years old, the last summer he spent with his Cree family before a Canadian government program forced him to attend residential school.
Almost 60 years later, Loyie is a playwright, short story writer, and recipient of a 2001 Canada Post Literacy Award for Individual Achievement. In collaboration with author-editor Brissenden and supported solidly by the deft portrayals of illustrator Holmlund, he documents “a way of life that is fast disappearing.” It’s a way that revolves around love of family, appreciation of nature’s bounty, respect for land, and acceptance of an obligation to care for that land.
Loyie engages readers with a story format. His first three chapters weave facts about traditional Cree summer life into a narrative about Lawrence and his family. His kokum (grandmother) is a particularly fascinating woman. The fourth and final chapter concludes with four crying siblings loaded into a truck that’s taking them away from home. A four-page epilogue, with nine black-and-white photos, comments briefly on residential schools and Lawrence’s experience.
As Long as the Rivers Flow features 30 vibrant watercolour illustrations on double- and single-page spreads. A collection of more than 20 smaller pictures creates the feeling of a family photo album.
The book is a valuable curriculum resource and a good read. In addition, the cover will appeal to reluctant male readers.”
— By Patty Lawlor, librarian and First Nations consultant with Southern Ontario Library Service
Books in Canada (Nov. 2002)
“…As Long as the Rivers Flow is a picture book that belies its format. The length and complexity of the text is easily that of chapter books for younger readers, the sort which usually contain a few illustrations per chapter.
…The story establishes some common ground with children everywhere. There is a pesky little sister, a peer group of cousins to best when picking berries or comparing pets, and the universal longing to grow up quickly and do adult things. But for the most part, this story is an earnest, serious effort to preserve in memory a very different time and place, to recover the values of a way of life and pass them on, because that life has been largely destroyed.
The text is packed with information about Cree practices and traditions, all filtered through Lawrence, who learns from every adult around him. He applies his uncle’s teachings about how to read moose signs, and his grandfather’s explanation of the difference between grizzly and black bear tracks. His grandmother educates him about medicinal plants, and reminds him always to give thanks to Mother Earth for each thing taken from it: a pinch of tobacco replaces each dug-out plant. And like the orphaned owl the children have adopted, whose evenings of play on a clothesline also strengthens its wings, readying it for flight and independence. Even Lawrence’s games such as “fooling a beaver” help him develop the patience and discipline required by a hunter. Whether he’s doing his many chores or reflecting upon the wide tales of his elders, everything in Lawrence’s world teaches him and prepares him for life as a native man on the land.
Some of the elements in the story are ones we tend to associate with pioneer life. Picking and drying berries, smoking meat and fish for the winter, rootcellars full of vegetables from the garden, wagons to carry the family to summer camp, log cabins and sheds. This portrait of almost contemporary 20th century life in the north, reveals a relatively successful blending of native and European economies; the many kinds of skills and knowledge the native people shared with the settlers, and some of the agricultural knowledge the native adapted for their own ways of life.
This is a story of a resourceful, skilled and wise community of native people. Both the text and the sweetly rendered watercolors strive for an idyllic realism, strive to be faithful to this time and place. The paintings of the land and people glow with life and warmth. But what happens when the life of the Plains Cree community is disrupted by a force so powerful and incomprehensibly cruel that the culture under stack has no means of defending itself? When the crow-like men in black gowns come to take the children away, that is literally the abrupt end of the story-the end of a childhood, a community and a history. The flow of life within the extended family, the passing on of knowledge and responsibility from one generation to the next, is cut off.
After the telling of this story, colored by the memories of a wonderful childhood, the closing epilogue assumes a very different look and tone. In a dry factual voice and with the accompaniment of black and white photos taken of classes at the residential school, the text, still in the 3rd person, goes on to describe the harsh school years experienced by the children in the story, and the cruelty inflicted on them and tens of thousands of others who were processed through these institutions.
Because native peoples today are still dealing with the legacy of this history, this book is more than a proud messenger of a culturally rich and economically/ecologically sound way of life. It is also part of a program, co-founded by the authors, to encourage those who have been scarred to remember their rich past and recover a rich and unique way of life.”
— By Deborah Wandal
Thus begins an account of an idyllic childhood in northern Canada, one terminated when Lawrence was 10 when he and his siblings were removed from their parents’ home and taken to the residential school, St. Bernard’s Mission, in northern Alberta.
The body of this book is a vivacious rendition of a prelapsarian world of extended family, a pet owl named Ooh-Hoo, fishing, gathering berries and medicinal plants; of beaver and moose and an enormous grizzly bear felled by Lawrence’s granny’s shotgun. Lawrence is beginning to imagine himself taking his place as a hunter and fisherman among his kin. All of his burgeoning sense of self ends when the truck comes to take the children away.
The epilogue to this poignant book contains photographs of Lawrence and his brothers and sisters on the steps of the mission school. These grim black-and-white photographs stand in stark juxtaposition to the limpid watercolours that illustrate Lawrence’s earlier life.”
By Susan Perren
Vancouver Sun (Oct. 19, 2002)
“…The book’s hard-hitting message is softened by Heather Holmlund’s beautiful watercolour illustrations and a sense of drama and adventure. Yet the story’s nostalgic evocation of family life is shadowed by a profound sense of loss rooted in a dark part of Canadian history….In some northern communities, traditional ways of life continue to exist, wilderness skills play a part in children’s upbringing and first languages like Cree are encouraged. But in urban places, where the streams have been paved over or forced underground and where First Nations people are buried under layers of silent history, the wisdom of Loyie’s elders should not be forgotten.”
— By Bernadette McGrath
Resource Links (Winter 2002)
“Much has been written about how Native culture was diminished by residential schools. Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden write about what they feel was diminished by residential schools: a family way of life. As Long as the Rivers Flow is a beautifully written and illustrated book about Lawrence’s ‘Last Summer before Residential School.’ The story takes place in the summer of 1944 and begins with the adoption of an abandoned baby owl, Ooh-Hoo. Larry raises Ooh-Hoo in a manner that allows the owl to eventually return to its natural environment.
The story describes the traditional ways of Cree life and follows the Loyie family as they prepare for and spend summer at their camp. The elders teach the youngsters by way of example, story telling and trust. Education is a family affair. The book includes true stories such as Lawrence’s grandmother shooting one of North America’s biggest grizzles.
Heather D. Holmlund’s knowledge of northern forests shows in her artwork. The watercolours compliment the story and bring to life the blues of the waterways, the green of the forests. The depiction of the Loyie family life is done with warmth. In contrast, the end picture is stark. Lawrence and his siblings sit in the back of the truck that will take them to residential school. “The sides of the truck were high…all Lawrence could see was the sky.” Only we the readers can see Ooh-Hoo flying free.
As Long as the Rivers Flow is a successful collaboration between writers Larry Loyie, Constance Brissenden and illustrator Heather Holmlund. The book is suitable for both public and school libraries. As a story about the importance of family, children from all walks of life can enjoy it. The Epilogue with photographs of Lawrence with his family and also in residential school adds a dimension that can be explored more within a Native Studies unit.
Thematic Links: Cree, Native Studies, Biography, Family.”
— By Laura Reilly
Canadian Materials (Oct. 4, 2002)
“…it is the book’s subtext which is the really important part of As Long as the Rivers Flow. Daily, Lawrence is shown receiving a natural education from the various members of his extended family as they go about their day to day activities. However, as the “Epilogue” points out:
When Lawrence finally went home at age fourteen, he felt like a stranger. He tried to recapture the feeling of freedom he had felt when he lived with his family in the bush, but things were never the same.
As Long as the Rivers Flow is a book that will likely be more enjoyed in a shared child/adult setting where, after reading, its contents can be discussed and explored. Recommended.”
— By Dave Jenkinson (http://www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol9/no3/aslong as the river.html)
Artist Heather D. Holmlund…has been a freelance artist ever since graduating from York University’s visual arts program. She thought of illustrating a book but never got the chance.
Then two years ago, author Larry Loyie, who wrote the story with Constance Brissenden, was in Fort Frances and saw Holmlund’s work on display at the Fine Line Art Gallery.
He said it was perfect. He contacted me in Toronto and got me in touch with Groundwood Books and it snowballed from that point,” Holmlund recalled.
‘They liked the fact that I was from Northwestern Ontario and that most of my paintings center around Northwestern Ontario,’ she added. ‘I also do a lot of native people, as well.’
Holmlund said she fell in love with the script immediately.
‘It is written as a semi-autobiographical account of Larry’s life…a very Canadian story dealing with a sensitive subject,’ Holmlund said.
Originally the book was to be illustrated mostly with photographs with a couple of paintings. The four paintings initially expected for the book turned into 34 colour-page illustration.
It took a year-and-a-half to complete the project, from research and sketches to the final product, all the while Holmlund was teaching herself to be an illustrator with the help of an art director from the publishing company.
‘I think it is very technically demanding. Keeping the paintings consistent throughout the book and keeping the characters sharp and consistent,’ she admitted.
‘I found it more emotionally demanding because I really got involved in the book.’
Now that the book is completed, Holmlund is ecstatic.
‘I felt very good about it. When I received my proofs, I felt like I’d done my best work,’ she enthused…”
By Sarah McGinnis
Simon Fraser News (Nov. 28, 2002)
: “Brissenden’s Book Honoured” (SFU Authors of the Month) www.sfu.ca
“Constance Brissenden is one of SFU bookstores authors of the month in November for a new children’s book, As Long as the Rivers Flow, that she co-wrote with Cree writer and playwright Larry Loyie….
‘Dozens of adults have told us they cried when they read the book,’ says Brissenden who, with Loyie, has held workshops and readings throughout B.C. and Alberta to promote the book. “It’s a way of starting to understand the whole residential school issue,” Loyie adds.
The story is all the more evocative for its realistic depiction and illustration of Loyie’s relatives, who are all featured. ‘For every person in the book, we collected a historic photo for the illustrator Heather Holmlund to base her illustrations on,’ says Loyie. It took two years to track down a photo of his petite grandmother, renowned for shooting North America’s biggest grizzly bear with a single bullet form a rabbit gun…
Brissenden, a Vancouver writer, has taught in SFU’s writing and publishing program for 15 years.”
By Diane Luckow
(Vancouver B.C.) librarian review (Sept. 2002): “By sharing his childhood memories in his book, Larry Loyie is bringing some of that sense of how he was valued as a boy into the present, and in doing so, perhaps showing native children that the way of life of the native people in his community nourished life and growth.”
(Oct. 24, 2002), Wabasca-Desmarais, Alberta: “Books are launched at college” (Northern Lakes College)
Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (Dec. 2002):
“How We Remember Teaches Us How to Live: What strengths have we gained from the residential school experience?” (report on residential school workshops, including participation by Larry Loyie).
South Peace News: Spotlight (Oct. 23, 2002)
“Shooting the biggest grizzly bear in North America was only one childhood experience Slave Lake author Larry Loyie shared with students in the Lesser Slave Lake area during his author’s tour Oct. 9-11.
Loyie also told stories of hunting beaver and a pet owl that kept wide-eyed elementary school students interested during visits to High Prairie and Slave Lake…”
By Chris Clegg
The Gathering Tree is the most recent children’s book by award-winning authors Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden. The authors tackle the difficult issue of HIV/AIDS in this picture book set in a First Nations community in British Columbia. A special cousin is returning home for a community ceremony. Robert is a 21-year-old First Nations man who went to the city for his education. His younger cousins, Tyler and Shay-Lyn, look up to him as a role model for his marathon running ability.
But on this visit something has changed. Shay-Lyn’s best friend explains that she can’t visit during Robert’s stay. Shay-Lyn learns that her special cousin is sick and her friend’s mother forbids visiting. Brother and sister are troubled because the last time they saw their cousin Robert was in good health.
With their parents gentle explana ions Shay-Lyn and Tyler learn that Robert has a virus called HIV. When Robert arrives in the community for the spiritual gathering he looks just as healthy as he did on the previous visit. During the homecoming, Robert explains to his family and Elders that he wants his community to understand HIV.
Elders provide spiritual guidance and request that Robert speak to the gathering. The community acceptance Robert receives is heartwarming. Friends, family and Elders join him in a special Honour Dance. Robert shares his understanding of HIV to his community and explains that his goal is to tell other First Nations people that the disease is preventable. One day Robert hopes to return to his running career. The story ends with Shay-Lyn’s friend joining her friend in the Honour Dance reminding readers that understanding is possible.
As an HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention resource, The Gathering Tree contains suggestions for teachers and educators who want to share this story and its message with students. The book was initiated by Chee Mamuk, the Aboriginal HIV education program of the BC Centre for Disease Control.
While the content is aimed at First Nations children, the book is suitable for readers from all cultural backgrounds. Effective acrylic paintings by Heather D. Holmlund add to the understanding and awareness of this disease.