CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 37 . . . . May 25, 2018
When Skye Bird's local school closes, she and her classmates are forced to transfer to a larger school for her sixth grade year. While her brother and sister try to find ways to fit in, Skye misses the old activities in which she used to participate, like the Powwow group and Culture Club. The new school doesn't feel welcoming to Skye and her friends, and she begins to feel left out and targeted by teachers and the principal. After a vision of her Okômâw (great-grandmother) comes to her in a dream, Skye begins to realize how important it is to learn about her own culture and to share it with others.
Bishop's latest novel is a smooth-flowing, straightforward narrative that would work well as an independent reading choice or as a part of an integrated Language Arts/Social Studies curriculum. The integration of main character Skye's dream narratives with the plot is seamless; there is none of the jumpiness that sometimes comes with such a switch in perspective. Bishop includes a line about the importance of these dreams in Chapter Three: "She knew visions were important in her culture—they were a way to help a person learn something and Skye knew she needed all the help she could get."
Regarding the Cree culture, I would have appreciated an even longer glossary. A page at the beginning of the novel offers a few terms with pronunciations, but there were more still that gave me pause. I admit to being a reader with much to learn about Indigenous peoples, so when I do find a book like this, I want to take away from it as much as possible. I did like the page at the end that gave a list of the other books by or about Indigenous People that were mentioned throughout the story. Fiction such as this is a great way to get students interested in learning more about other cultures, and giving them a handful of "next-step" titles is very helpful.
This novel works very hard to illustrate the experience of a young Indigenous person in the Canadian school system. For example, the first interaction between Skye and the principal of her new school seems normal enough; Mrs. Miller scolds her for being late to class. However, as the story progresses, the negative attitudes of Mrs. Miller and the other teachers at the school become more and more pointed, leaving the new students feeling targeted, uncertain, and uncomfortable for reasons that may be unclear to them but are quite clear to us as readers. It's a valuable lesson for non-Indigenous People trying to understand how Indigenous students are often made to feel.
My only concern here would be the much-debated issue of who should have permission to tell the stories of Indigenous People. While Bishop has devoted much of her career to the study of the effects of colonization on Indigenous students, she is not (as far as I can tell from her online biography and 'About the Author' page) an Indigenous Person herself. My concern is somewhat alleviated by the fact that this book has been praised by the coordinator for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Education in Regina, SK.
Overall, Skye Bird and the Eagle Feather is a well-told story with a strong, believable main character.
Allison Giggey is the teacher-librarian at an intermediate school in Prince Edward Island.
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