We Dream Medicine Dreams, by author, artist, and bioethicist Lisa Boivin, a member of the Deninu K’ue First Nation in the Northwest Territories, is a moving and insightful picture book honouring the enduring relationship between a child and her grandfather. In poised first-person narration, a young girl speaks directly to her Elder, sharing memories and reflecting upon traditional Dene knowledge: “You said, ‘There is medicine in our dreams. This medicine teaches us to be skilful in the world and teaches us to face the challenges in our lives.’”
The child vividly recollects Grampa’s stories of the spiritual significance of seeing Bear, Hawk, Caribou, and Wolf in dreams and the life lessons they impart. Boivin’s exquisite, digitally created collages are luxuriantly alive with colour, pattern, and texture. There’s harmony and connection in the intricate nature scenes: a furry brown bear cub is nestled in a lush strawberry patch enjoying the “little hearts that live in the flora of the land,” which sweetly remind him that “he is loved by his mother and loved by the land.”
When Grampa becomes ill, the family draws strength from traditional teachings rooted in generosity, responsibility, caring, and respect for nature and oneself. Stepping into the hospital, the little girl is confronted by a sterile, colourless new environment with loud beeping sounds and peculiar smells that are hostile to her senses. She feels nervous, but the bonds with her Elder and her culture run deep and are an assuring force. The colours of her dress, radiant as a fuchsia and purple sunset, appear in striking contrast to the stark white institutional hallways she walks through.
A safe space is created in the hospital room, and the child is allowed to say goodbye in an authentic and meaningful manner, enabling a transformative healing journey for everyone: “I crawled into bed with you. I closed my eyes and began to dream a medicine dream for us.” Evocative illustrations show plastic intravenous tubes growing into flower vines that hold the generations together in an embrace. In a powerful wordless spread, the hospital bed turns into a canoe and the river gently pulls the girl and her grandfather through a peaceful, dignified passing. Their conversations never end, as she knows she will find him in her dreams.
Grandfather teachings are also eloquently presented in Treaty Words by Aimée Craft, an Anishinaabe-Métis author and lawyer from Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. This exemplary narrative nonfiction book provides an understanding of Indigenous perspectives on treaty relationships, affording vital – and not often heard – historical and cultural context to these living agreements.
A young girl and her Mishomis contentedly sit beside each other on a riverbank and “let the silence speak.” As they listen to the tall grass swaying in the wind and birds making their distinctive calls, their interconnectedness with nature is poetically described: “Every sound was outside and inside of them.” This calm, centred narrative tone, with a relaxed, unhurried pace, creates the feel of an oral story.
Gathered around a campfire, Mishomis talks about the Anishinaabe principles of “respect, reciprocity, and renewal.” He explains the original treaty, made between the earth and the sky, was a promise to work together in perpetuity: “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.” Using measured, considered words, Mishomis clearly conveys how treaties are the basis of all relationships and an ongoing obligation and responsibility for everyone.
There are natural pauses in the conversation that allow room for reflection and observation. The child considers her grandfather’s lifelong efforts in caring for the land, water, and animals, which put his tenets into practice. Anishinaabemowin words, each carrying a teaching, are woven seamlessly into the English sentences and are a potent reminder of the sanctity of Indigenous languages.
A thoughtful stillness is evoked in the digital artwork of Luke Swinson, an Anishinaabe illustrator and muralist from Kitchener, Ontario, and member of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation. Rendered in muted colours, the expansive landscape with open horizons and stately birch trees serve as a grounding backdrop for the text.
The importance of listening with the intent to understand is highlighted in Craft’s endnote: “There is so much to learn from everything that is around us. It helps us better understand what’s inside of us as human beings.”