Indianz.Com > News > Native women win major award for ‘Water Protectors’ book
Politics and Prose: Carole Lindstrom — “We Are Water Protectors”
Native women win major award for ‘Water Protectors’ book
Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Growing up in Nebraska, Carole Lindstrom’s favorite novel series was “The Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder about a young woman’s life as a settler on the Great Plains in the late 19th Century.

But while she loved reading about Wilder’s adventures, Lindstrom couldn’t help but feel frustrated by how the author depicted her people.

“I just remember being so torn and not understanding why this book that I loved so much could talk about me so badly, as a savage and as a wild Indian,” she said. “I wasn’t those things. My mother wasn’t those things. My grandmother wasn’t those things. Our people are not those things.”

Eventually, Lindstrom decided to become an children’s literature author and tell her people’s stories herself. That journey culminated this week with Lindstrom, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, winning the prestigious Caldecott Medal for her latest work – “We Are Water Protectors” – along with Tlingit illustrator Michaela Goade.

It marks the first time a female Native author has won the award and the first time a Native author and illustrator have won what is considered the most highly sought-after honor for writers of children’s literature.

Published by Roaring Brook Press, “We Are Water Protectors” tells the story of a young Ojibwe girl who decides to fight a pipeline that threatens her people’s land and water. The whimsical story and its celebration of indigenous culture are accentuated by Goade’s swirling watercolors that capture the sacredness of water.

The story was inspired by the 2016 movement that saw indigenous people from around the world stand up against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they feared would rupture and permanently damage the water and sacred burial grounds around the homelands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Lindstrom said she wasn’t able to participate in the demonstration near Cannonball, on the North Dakota portion of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, but she became determined after reading news reports of the event to write about it.

Initially, she intended to write a young adult’s novel that would offer a heavily researched, nuanced portrayal of the historic event. But she also knew that it was important to publish the story sooner rather than later so that it might have a greater impact on the national debate over pipelines and their potential impact on the environment.

Women hold a banner in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Photo: Joe Brusky

She decided writing a children’s book would get her message out sooner and allow her to communicate the story better to a younger audience.

“Children just get it. They just get it,” she said. “Subtlety like this is just so much more powerful. It was exactly what I hoped for but never imagined.”

In one of his first actions as the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden last week issued an executive order rescinding the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have transported oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast. Native leaders and anti-pipeline activists hailed the decision, and Canadian TC Energy suspended work on the line.

Lindstrom noted the timing of winning the Caldecott for a story about a Native girl’s fight against a pipeline and the newly inaugurated president ending construction of another controversial pipeline the same week.

“We have a president who is listening, who gets it,” said Lindstrom, adding that she is trying to get a copy of her book to Biden so he can share it with his grandchildren.

She said the process of writing the book and working with Goade to portray Ojibwe people and culture in a positive way helped her come to terms with her own Native identity, something that had been complicated by people in her life who didn’t appreciate that aspect of her.

“Through the book, it helped me to embrace me and my culture and my people,” she said.

She said working with Goade also helped her reconnect to her culture as the two of them collaborated on the artistic design of the book, including the images of floral clothing, ribbon skirts and beadwork. Lindstrom said she taught Goade what she knows about Ojibwe culture so she could more accurately portray that culture.

Through the process, the two became friends.

“She’s just so special, magically talented,” she said. “I’m so proud of her. She so deserves this medal.”

She said she’s proud to be able to share a story that might inspire more young people and others to help fight for Native and environmental justice.

“I adore writing for young people,” she said. “They are so magical in everything, the things they think and the things they say.”

And Lindstrom said she’s happy to have been able to create a hero for Native children.

“I want her to shine out so everyone can shine out,” she said.

MacKids Books: “We Are Water Protectors” Earth Day Event with Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade
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