________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 29 . . . . April 7, 2017


Spirit Animals: Meanings & Stories.

Wayne Arthurson.
Stony Plain, AB: Eschia Books (Distributed by BookLogic), 2014.
96 pp., trade pbk., $9.99.
ISBN 978-1-926696-26-3.

Subject Headings:
Animals-Religious aspects.
Indians of North America-Religion.
Indian mythology-North America.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**** /4



Also known as protectors, the bear is a symbol of leadership and wisdom. The bear is called "Grandfather" and given the respect of an honored elder. The people of the Haida Gwaii in the Pacific Northwest call the bear "Elder Kinsmen". When a Haida kills a bear, eagle down is sprinkled on the bear's body to show respect. Conversely, in many stories, bears are also seen as bumbling, silly animals.

As a non-indigenous reader, I thoroughly enjoyed Wayne Arthurson's book, Spirit Animals: Meanings & Stories. The format of the book makes it accessible, entertaining, and informative. In Spirit Animals, Arthurson explores creatures big and small—from spiders to Orcas and from ducks to bison—and considers each one in relation to particular Indigenous peoples.

      After brief introductory matter, the contents of the book are divided into discussion of creatures of the air (e.g. eagles and ravens), the earth (e.g. spiders and wolves), and water (e.g. beavers and salmon). For each creature, the format most often consists of two pages of factual information illustrated with full colour photographs. In the two pages that follow, there is a traditional story from one of North America's Indigenous nations relating an experience involving the creature. These story pages generally feature stylized drawings or paintings of the creature. It is an attractive format that works superbly.

      Arthurson is of Cree descent, and he is careful to identify different and specific nations in his discussion of various Indigenous beliefs. For instance, in discussing the spider, he says that for the Blackfoot people, the spider represents skill and intelligence, while for the Ojibwa, it represents patience and endurance. He mentions the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota trickster figure, Iktomi, but the featured traditional story is of Asibikaasi, the Anishinaabe grandmother spider, spinning dreamcatcher webs.

      Arthurson is also careful to ensure that he is not mistakenly seen to be representing himself and his interpretations as the sole authority on his subject. On page five, he says the book is intended merely "to introduce the importance of animals to Native people" [my emphasis]. He says also that each Indigenous nation has its "own ideas" about the roles and origins of various animals. The back cover reads: "This book is a guide, and the meanings of the Spirit Animals featured here are only one interpretation." I believe that, like me, many readers will enjoy and benefit from Arthurson's careful writing.

      Spirit Animals: Meanings & Stories is a simplified, abbreviated version of Arthurson's more expansive 2012 book, Spirit Animals: The Wisdom of Nature. The publisher, Eschia Books, is an Aboriginal-owned publishing house based in Story Plain, AB. Their mandate is "to publish books that spark interest in Aboriginal cultures and engage more young readers, encouraging understanding through genuine, insightful writing." I am not a "young reader", but I believe Spirit Animals fits the publisher's mandate perfectly.

Highly Recommended.

Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He specializes in children's literature.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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ISSN 1201-9364
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