Knowing Your Past to Make Peace

Wel­come to Peace-olo­gy. We are two children’s authors team­ing up to review children’s books with peace in mind. 

Ellie: The oth­er day, I looked over the shoul­der of my five-year-old to see what he was draw­ing. There was the Ire­land flag on the left, the Nor­way flag on the right, and he was fin­ish­ing the Unit­ed States flag in the mid­dle. Simon was born on the day his great grand­moth­er died. He has always been curi­ous about his ances­tors. When my spouse’s extend­ed fam­i­ly sings the Nor­we­gian table prayer in har­mo­ny, Simon joins in enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly. I love feed­ing this curios­i­ty of his in part because I believe we need to know where we come from and where we are cur­rent­ly stand­ing to move toward a peace­ful future.

Shi-Shi-EtkoIn rais­ing peace­mak­ers capa­ble of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, I have com­mit­ted to fill­ing our house with books writ­ten by and about Native peo­ple so my chil­dren will know the his­to­ry of the land we inhab­it. One of our cur­rent favorites is Shi-Shi-Etko by Nico­la L. Camp­bell. Shi-Shi-Etko (Ground­wood Books) tells the sto­ry of a girl spend­ing her last four days with her fam­i­ly before being tak­en away to a res­i­den­tial school. Her extend­ed fam­i­ly fill her mind and heart with mem­o­ries, knowl­edge and love so she will not for­get where she came from. She vis­its the woods, the riv­er and the creek, gath­er­ing bits of nature to take with her. It is trag­ic and beau­ti­ful. The stun­ning images pair well with the poet­ic words, both infus­ing our hearts.

The book has led to ques­tions about native plants, lan­guage, Native peo­ple, and our own ances­tors. It has fed the curios­i­ty of my chil­dren and opened up room to talk about where we came from and where we live. As peace­mak­ers, we must know the his­to­ry of our land. We must name that res­i­den­tial schools hap­pened, and name how we all lost out because of it. We are chal­lenged to learn our own ances­tral his­to­ries, cel­e­brate them, and cre­ate space for oth­ers to do the same.

Bde Maka Ska

Recent­ly the name of a lake by my home was changed from Lake Cal­houn to Bde Maka Ska. My moth­er-in-law dri­ves by it with my boys on her way to drop them off back home. If she ever calls it the old name, my son cor­rects her. We are slow­ly cre­at­ing space for the his­to­ry and ancient cul­ture of our land to breathe and make us better.

Find oth­er great Native books

Scene on Radio, a pod­cast out of Duke Uni­ver­si­ty, is one of my favorites. I rec­om­mend all their work, espe­cial­ly Sea­son 2: See­ing White. Sea­son 4 is about the his­to­ry of democ­ra­cy in our coun­try. Episode 1 of Sea­son 4 starts with the Chero­kee, and how they were and are arguably more demo­c­ra­t­ic than the Found­ing Fathers.

Jim Bear Jacobs
Jim Bear Jacobs

Caren: Dig­ging Deep­er. Ellie, know­ing our own his­to­ry and acknowl­edg­ing and appre­ci­at­ing the his­to­ry of oth­ers is crit­i­cal to build­ing peace. I’m remind­ed of a talk I attend­ed with Jim Bear Jacobs, a Min­nesotan, mem­ber of the Stock­bridge-Mun­see Mohi­can Nation, and rec­og­nized Twin Cities cul­tur­al facil­i­ta­tor. Jim Bear’s mis­sion is ded­i­cat­ed to strength­en­ing rela­tion­ships between Native and non-Natives by the telling of heal­ing sto­ries (Heal­ing Min­neso­ta Sto­ries) and the com­pas­sion­ate teach­ing of his­to­ry. The focus of his talk that Novem­ber day was Thanks­giv­ing, the holiday’s his­to­ry and myth mak­ing. To begin, Jim Bear intro­duced him­self by acknowl­edg­ing gen­er­a­tions of his ances­tors. He knew their names, where they lived, their place with­in his fam­i­ly and tribe. I won­dered how many of us could do the same. We tried, but none of us in the audi­ence had as an exten­sive fam­i­ly his­to­ry com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry as Jim Bear. The rev­er­ence for fam­i­ly his­to­ry as Jim Bear so clear­ly mod­eled chal­lenged each of us to reach back to our own with the same respect. The sim­ple act of rev­er­ence and respect brought an audi­ence of indi­vid­u­als into a cir­cle of one.

Ellie and Caren: Ques­tions Toward Action 

Who are the sto­ry tellers in your fam­i­ly? What language(s) did your ances­tors speak? What words, recipes, prac­tices, folk­lore or cel­e­bra­tions are part of your own his­to­ry and place? What words remind you of your child­hood or feel like home? What have we dis­cov­ered about our­selves that we can share with others?

Don’t Sell Pic­ture Books Short! 

Pic­ture books are for all ages. As writ­ers, par­ents, and teach­ers, we both have learned so much so quick­ly by pulling from the non­fic­tion pic­ture book sec­tion of the library. We’ve used pic­ture books in class­rooms, not only for young stu­dents, but with teenagers, as poet­ic illus­tra­tive mod­els, sam­ples of writ­ing con­structs and sto­ry struc­ture, or sto­ry truths for their lit­er­al minds. The pithy nature of pic­ture books can get to the heart of the mat­ter and lead to rich dis­cus­sions that take us to new places together.

Let us know:

Do you have children’s books or ideas with peace themes you’d like to share? Please do. We would like to incor­po­rate your rec­om­men­da­tions into upcom­ing arti­cles, and of course, acknowl­edge you. Let’s cre­ate Peace-olo­gy togeth­er. Write to either of us and describe your sug­ges­tion. Include your name, con­tact, and pro­fes­sion­al or orga­ni­za­tion­al affil­i­a­tion and send to or .

We look for­ward to being on this peace jour­ney together.

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