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Mirroring the themes in many of her award-winning fiction novels, Deborah Ellis’ non-fiction book “Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids” is a powerful portrait of the children often marginalized by our own society. A collection of personal stories written first-hand by forty-five First Nations youths from across North America, Ellis provides a forum for each individual to have their voice heard without restriction. As a result, we encounter a wide range of stories – from the genuinely heart-breaking to the absolutely inspiring.

As I am sure many of your will agree with, this book was emotionally heavy but so is the history of Indigenous peoples in North America. It’s a history that includes many atrocities and great oppression. There is valid reason for pain that resides in these pages but reading about rampant drug-use, suicides, and foster homes is just one side of the coin. There are also great moments of beauty including sacred cultural traditions, family strength, and redeeming spiritual faith.

Several of these stories have stayed with me: I think of Pearl and her Fancy Shawl dancing, Cohen eating homemade venison stew, and Tingo struggling to do homework on the floor of a small cheap motel. Yet, it is Miranda’s voice that I hear most often – whispering in my ear as I look out the windows at school or drive home at the end of the day. Living on a reserve close to Sarnia, Ontario, her community falls victim to the petrochemical plants on the edge of their land. Despite company assurance that there is no pollution, Miranda describes the effects of living so close to such environmentally dangerous factories: “Sometimes the air is hard to breath. It hurts my throat. Lots of people have coughs that never do away”. Understanding that the First Nations people are deeply connected to the environment, this takes on a greater level of tragedy and disrespect. Chemical workers wear head-to-toe safety gear as Aamjiwnaang children play in the grass just a few steps away in a place known to the rest of Canada as “Chemical Valley”. It’s a harrowing vision I can’t forget.

Although these are the stories of Indigenous youth, some of the experiences described are also ones that are sure to connect with many Intermediate readers: dealing with divorced parents, struggling with academics in school, and finding oneself. In her Author’s Note, Ellis comments that “statistics don’t tell us everything”, and these stories certainly encourage readers to look beyond numbers and think about the wide range of experiences and worldviews of these children.  A recommended read for our Grade 7 & 8 students (also a nominated title for the 2015 Red Maple Non-Fiction program).

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