He may have been here for only a few days, but renowned Canadian author David Bouchard has left his mark on the area with a simple message: Children and youth need to read to get ahead in life, and to do this, parents and the community need to be reading, too.
It was a message Bouchard had brought with him when he initially visited Rainy River District back in the spring—before his trip was cut short by bad weather. He returned last week to complete the original tour, visiting schools and First Nations’ communities.
“He’s made a real impact on a lot of teachers and staff members in the Rainy River Board, parents and kids, First Nation communities,” noted Brent Tookenay, aboriginal education leader for the Rainy River District School Board who helped bring Bouchard to the area.
Bouchard’s positive message is delivered in an engaging way, said Tookenay, that really helps improve parental involvement and engagement in promoting literacy.
Originally from Saskatchewan, Bouchard now lives in British Columbia with his family. He was a teacher for 18 years and a school principal, eventually becoming a writer who has produced more than two dozen best-selling books.
Many of these books draw from the First Nations’ experience and stories, and Bouchard’s own Métis roots.
His writing has garnered him various literary awards, including a Governor General’s award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins poetry award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon award.
Maclean’s magazine listed his book, “If You’re Not from the Prairie,” as one of the top 20 children’s books in Canadian history.
Despite this success, when Bouchard first arrived at Stanjikoming, on one of his many stops in the area, he wondered if people actually would show up to hear him speak. A large feast had been laid out, but only a few people were there when he first arrived.
But by the end of the evening, Bouchard said there were crowds, dancing, five drummers, and copies of his books were being given out by the handful.
“You know they’re going home to read,” he said, estimating hundreds of books have been given out on his trip through the area.
Meanwhile, if Bouchard has had a lasting impact on the community, the community also has had an impact on him.
During his visit back in the spring, Bouchard was presented with a print of a painting by Kristy Cameron, an artist and senior kindergarten teacher in Atikokan. At the time, Bouchard suggested to Cameron that they work together in the future.
At first, Cameron admitted she didn’t know whether to take him seriously. But a month later, she sent him some samples of her work—and he called the next day and invited her to illustrate the next book he was working on: one on the Seven Teachings.
“It’s a very meaningful topic to a lot of people, and it’s meaningful not just for aboriginal people but for everyone,” explained Cameron, who incorporates her own aboriginal heritage into her painting style.
“I love painting, so to have this project to channel my art into is meaningful because it’s a very worthy project and it’s going to touch many people, and it’s great to be a part of that,” she enthused.
“She’s a huge talent,” remarked Bouchard.
But Cameron wasn’t the only person Bouchard connected with here. He also has enlisted the help of local resident Jason Jones, whom he has asked to translate his next two books so they will be available in the Ojibwe language.
Part of this translation includes audio CDs, noted Bouchard, an important component because it means even people who are unable to read still have access to his books and stories.
While the book on the Seven Teachings is still in the works, Bouchard’s said it will be completed in seven months “come hell or high water.”
And once it’s completed, having the teachings in book form is something that will be helpful in many ways, said Cameron.
“The schools are putting more emphasis on character-building and a lot of educators have already been incorporating the native teachings into the curriculum,” she noted.
“It’s another tool, and form of teaching children the Seven Teachings.”