When Andrew Wooldridge, publisher at Orca Book Publishers, heard Marie Wilson, a commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, speak at the annual general meeting for the Association of Canadian Publishers last year, an idea took root.
Wooldridge imagined publishing a book about what to do going forward, and to expand the conversation of reconciliation through non-fiction books for young readers. Immediately he thought of writer Monique Gray Smith, a mixed-heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent, and sent her an email.
This fall, Smith’s Speaking Our Truth : A Journey of Reconciliation, a non-fiction book geared toward children ages 9-13, and You Hold Me Up, a picture book for ages 4-8 years old, are being released. In her work, Smith, an international speaker, author and consultant, honours the Seven Grandfather teachings: honesty, respect, love, courage, truth, humility, and wisdom. “Monique was the ideal person, as this is exactly what she does in her day-to-day life with her consulting business, and how she communicates with people about reconciliation as a real positive force,” says Wooldridge. “It’s about people taking responsibility for the past, and trying to see how to hold each other up into the future.”
To ensure sensitive topics like reconciliation and Indigenous relations were portrayed accurately, honestly, and ethically in the book, Wooldridge brought in Gregory Younging, a member of Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, and the former managing editor of Theytus Books. Younging was assistant director of research to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and runs the Indigenous Editor’s Circle program at Humber College in Toronto.
“We are more conscious now about how with Indigenous stories, there is so much tension out there. We can see what happens when things are appropriated in the wrong way, or the point is missed,” says Wooldridge. “We were committed as to getting it right. We are working with Greg consulting on any project as an Indigenous eye, and to consider all the implications. He has a really good perspective.”
Orca sent out 500 advance copies of Speaking Our Truth across the country, with plans to put it in the hands of every MP. “It’s an important book that needs to be out there,” says Wooldridge. “This book needs to be seen. Quite often kid’s books aren’t seen by the general population.”
Another element of Speaking Our Truth is its accompanying teacher’s resource guide and website. “We see this book as a very difficult topic to talk about in class,” says Wooldridge. “Most teachers don’t have a means of talking about it. We have an extensive resource guide, a free resource for schools to give teachers an opportunity, something to give guidance.”