In seeking to find meaning for the word truth, other words, regardless of the source make a consistent appearance. The word fact is used repeatedly. Facts exist, occur, and are observable. They can be verified through differing forms of measurement.
To be presented with truth is to be better informed. To be better informed makes us better human beings, able to be respective of other individuals and their stories. Collaborators author Traci Sorell and illustrator Frane Lessac who brought us We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga return with We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know (Charlesbridge, April 20, 2021). These twelve truths are vital to understanding
Native citizens and Native Nations today.
Our Native Nations have always been here.
We are Indigenous to the continent now called North America.
Our leaders are sovereign and have power to make rules. Our
ways of life changed when white people arrived from Europe.
A Native Nations Community School is preparing for Indigenous Peoples' Day. For this event, topics are assigned to students to be presented at the gathering. Two pages are dedicated to each topic with an explanatory narrative and a definitive image.
To begin, the first delivery is for the word Assimilation. Rigid laws were enforced by United States leaders, requiring Native Nations to forgo their own governing, their sacred rituals, and the speaking of their languages. Can you imagine being removed as a child from your home and sent to a boarding school? Regardless,
"We are still here!"
Students speak about Allotment, Indian New Deal, Termination, Relocation, Tribal Activism, Self-Determination, Indian Child Welfare & Education, Religious Freedom, Economic Development, Language Revival, and Sovereign Resurgence. Native Nations' lands were taken and sold. The United States government did try to offer additional assistance to Native Nations during the Depression. Did you know treaty agreements with more than one hundred Native Nations were ended? Did you know people in Native Nations were left without support in cities after leaving their homes through encouragement and promises?
Through Tribal Activism and Self-Determination Native Nations have raised their voices in protest and created change. They have promoted progress for future people. They have championed for their religious beliefs to be upheld through the United States Supreme Court and Congress. Though federally regulated, tribal casinos provide for more economic opportunities. Native Nations' languages are being protected and preserved as part of their cultural heritage by laws passed in the United States Congress. After each student's display and speech, the words
"We are still here!"
follow, but they are never more power than after the presentation on sovereignty. Here is where voices are raised to protect the natural resources for everyone, assure Native Nations all aspects of their welfare are of vital concern, and
share information with the United Nations about our treatment in the United States.
The technique used to recount these twelve truths, the Indigenous Peoples' Day Project by students, is a superb choice by author Traci Sorell, appealing directly to the intended audience, but also engaging for all ages. Each topic (except one) is introduced with one or two sentences before a following statement is expanded with specific, descriptive, and supportive bullet points. Using the primary title of the book at the end of each presentation is an affirmation of survival, continuation, and connection. Here is a passage from Religious Freedom.
Native Nations sought help from the US Supreme Court, so that
. . .we could practice our beliefs and ceremonies.
. . .tribes could access sacred sites outside our lands.
. . .tribal citizens could keep and use sacred objects.
When the Court did not support us, Native Nations sought
support from Congress to say,
"We are still here!"
The bold, vibrant and varied colors on the open and matching dust jacket and book case mirror the personalities of the children carrying the flags of their tribes as they march in solidarity. These twelve children, six on the front and six on the back, are symbols of the twelve discussions found in this book. Their body language and facial expression suggest pride and determination.
On the opening and closing endpapers is a golden, orange hue. For the initial title page, a single-page picture gives us a view of one of the students working on the drawing for the first topic. Art supplies and note cards frame her work. On the formal title page, a two-page image shows an early evening sky sprinkled with stars. It is above the Native Nations Community School. Families (even a family dog) walk from left to right toward the entrance of the school. They are assembling for the Indigenous People's Day Presentations.
For the two introductory pages, artist Frane Lessac takes us into the classroom as the students prepare their projects. They work in groups at five tables. Along one wall is a list of the topics and the student assigned to each one.
Double-page visuals are devoted to each topic portraying historical and realistic details rendered in
gouache on Arches paper.
Frane Lessac takes us into a boarding school classroom, the vast expanse of the prairie as Native people struggle to maintain their lives in the midst of land grabbing by railroads, into the Oval Office for the signing of a law, the city of Denver with tall buildings, vast landscapes in forests, mountains, and by the water, into the United States Supreme Court, and in the streets for the Indigenous Peoples' March. With each reading, readers will notice more elements included in the illustrations.
One of my many favorite images is for the Indian New Deal. The color blue is predominant in the walls, flooring, curtains, and chairs. It highlights the tribal attire of the Native Nations' leaders standing on either side of the President as he signs the law. Every line and color have been carefully drawn. Time truly stands still as we are pulled into this moment.
No matter how often you read We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frane Lessac, your realization of the veracity of the three words, everyone should know, increases. This is indeed a book everyone, yes, everyone, should read. At the close of the book further information is provided about the twelve topics, tribal flags, and the school shown in this title. Four pages are dedicated to a timeline of events. (I found myself matching the events to my age, remembering what I was doing and where I was when they happened.) This is followed by a Glossary Of Terms, Sources, and an Author's Note. You will want to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves. It is to be shared widely and often.
To learn more about Traci Sorell and Frane Lessac and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Traci Sorell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Frane Lessac has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. This title is showcased on a Kirkus podcast, a Porter Square Books virtual event, and School Library Journal, The Classroom Bookshelf. There are additional resources at the publisher's website and at Penguin Random House.