“The Diamond Willow Walking Stick: A Traditional Metis Story About Generosity”
Leah Marie Dorion
Gabriel Dumont Institute
“The Diamond Willow Walking Stick: A Traditional Metis Story about Generosity” by Leah Marie Dorion is a beautifully illustrated book based on a Metis elder’s remembrances of his grandparents’ teachings.
As a child honored to care for his grandparents in the traditional way, he discovers that the most important lesson is the concept of “what goes around comes around,” that everything in the universe eventually comes full circle. In one’s actions and deeds, the good is rewarded fourfold and the bad returned fourfold.
He learns that sacrifice may be called for whether through his grandfather’s giving away of horses or of the willow walking stick he worked so hard to create. “Giveaways,” ceremonial gifts of blankets and other items, are still practiced among Plains peoples.
The book tells a simple and at times repetitive story, but it showcases Saskatchewan artist Leah Marie Dorion’s colorful and instructive illustrations. In fact, Dorion equates narrative and visual art. As she explains in her online biography: “I have the heart of a storyteller and will use various forms of artistic expression to share stories.” For Dorion, art and oral tradition, informed by her cultural background, are both spiritual media that seek “balance and harmony.”
Dorion’s brilliant primary colors, geometric shapes, and appealing compositions are further enhanced by Michif language translations from master storyteller Norman Fleury, who, in addition to Michif-Cree, speaks four other languages. Seeing the translations, I was struck by the length and complexity of the Metis words.
The book includes an informative section in the back (I wish it had been in the front), about the uses native peoples had for the willow tree, including tool-making, ceremonial offerings, food and medicine.
A third in an ongoing series on traditional Metis culture, published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, “The Diamond Willow Walking Stick” honors the relationship between child and grandparents, people and the earth, spirit and community.
Shari Nault is the chair of the Billings Public Library Board of Directors, and is of Metis ancestry.