Local writer fills a gap she grew up with: books for Indigenous children


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Growing up in a predominantly white, rural community, Kristi White says there was virtually no access to books, let alone those she found relevant.

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“I grew up in a rural community where we were the only aboriginal family,” said White, who is Haudenosaunee from the Oneida Nation of the River Thames, southwest London.

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“I wasn’t an avid reader until I got to high school and was given my first book.”

But after wondering why the same was true for many others, and after learning that Aboriginal children, especially boys, had one of the lowest literacy rates in Canada, White decided to raise awareness of this issue through something she had come to love: writing.

A mother of four, White has self-published four children’s books in a new series aimed at educating boys on topics ranging from friendship and hoop dancing to braids and powwows.

“Each book in the series contains a little piece of Indigenous culture, so kids have relevant content,” she said.

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The Adventures of Jay and Gizmo series centers around the main characters Jay, an aboriginal boy, and his beloved cat, Gizmo. In the latest book, the couple learn about Native powwows and different dance styles, White said.

Many characters are based on real people. Jay, for example, is based on White’s cousin, while another character is inspired by his son, River Christie-White, a disability advocate.

“Kids really relate to the characters they can see outside of the books,” White said.

Since the series launched in 2018, her books have been read in countries around the world – from Guatemala to the Philippines – to help teach children English. One of them is now available in a bilingual version, English and Anishinaabemowin.

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Closer to home, White is raising funds and directing a portion of her profits to send free copies of her books to schools, camps, communities and agencies in Ontario and across the island of Turtle, otherwise known as North America.

Through the end of September, donations to the Gift of Literacy project will help distribute free copies of Jay and Gizmo Learn About Boys With Braids, to raise awareness about the bullying of Indigenous boys with long hair and braids.

“Over the past month, the number of little boys who have come up and wanted to talk to me about being bullied at school around their hair has been heartbreaking,” White said.

Now she’s using that as a boost to educate people about the cultural significance of braiding and long hair.

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“No matter what nation or tribe it is, one of the main beliefs around our hair teaching is that we only cut our hair at specific times,” such as when people mourn the loss of their hair. loved one, White explained.

She said long hair symbolized a connection to the Earth and the ancestors of her people. “It really is a huge piece of our culture.”

Through her work, White hopes to shed light on the need for accessible reading material, particularly that of Indigenous authors, in First Nations communities.

She cited her great-aunt, a teacher and the first woman to be elected chief of the Oneida Nation of the Thames in 1966. One of her goals was to establish a library in the community.

“I’m his little niece in 2022, and we don’t have a library at Oneida,” White said.

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According to the Ontario Library Association, fewer than 50 of the 133 First Nations communities in Ontario have public libraries.

In the long term, White hopes to see her books widely shared.

“I would love to see even one of each series in each space where you would find an indigenous child, which for me is everywhere. We have Dora and Diego, and they are amazing representations for Spanish children” , she said, referring to the popular TV series and children’s book.

“We need the same kind of thing to raise our Aboriginal children.

To learn more about The Adventures of Jay and Gizmo, visit www.jayandgizmo.ca.

[email protected]


The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canadaa


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