To indigenous peoples, the word “roots” speaks beyond place and family ties to a worldview that connects all living things as relatives. The Metis, who live in Canada and Montana, descend from a mixed First Nations and European heritage and believe that all plants and animals were created before humans, and that, therefore, humans depend on them for survival. It is a belief that should resonate for all peoples when we contemplate our assault on the planet’s biosphere.
Leah Marie Dorion’s beautifully illustrated children’s book "Relatives With Roots: A Story About Metis Women’s Connection to the Land" includes translations of the text into Michief-Cree by Rita Flamand and portrays a grandmother teaching her granddaughter reverence for living things while identifying and harvesting plants for use in traditional medicines and foods.
In simple but graceful prose, Dorion tells how the child learns cultural beliefs and customs through stories and songs about each plant, whose names, such as Buffaloberry and Muskeg Tea, speak of a different time. She discovers, for example, that prairie sage is for women’s use, and, most important, she comes to understand her grandmother’s gratitude for the land and the gifts it provides. Tobacco offerings signifying Truth teach the child to give back as well as to take, and to remain in harmony and balance.
The Metis grandmother tells of the harvest season for every plant — the relatives — and how they grow in communities just like people. She also explains that transplants don’t always take, and she cautions her granddaughter with the humorous story-within-a-story of a Cree trickster who ate the seeds of the rose hip bush instead of just the fruit and for his troubles earned an itchy “bum,” a decidedly Canadian word.
This gentle little book teaches Metis core values wrapped in a grandmother’s reverence for her relatives, all things living. The author, Dorion, is a Metis artist, author, curriculum developer, lecturer and researcher. Her other publications include "The Giving Tree: A Retelling of a Traditional Metis Story," "The Snow Tunnel Sisters," "Metis Legacy I and II" and "Drops of Brandy."
"Relatives With Roots: A Story About Metis Women’s Connection to the Land" is appropriate for children of any culture who like bright and lively illustrations, who have an interest in plants and animals, and who enjoy learning about how other people live.
Shari Nault is the chair for the Parmly Billings Library Board and is a member of the High Plains Book Awards committee. She is of Metis descent.