Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the largest French Book Fair in Canada – The Salon du livre in Montreal, PQ. It was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. My goal was to find authentic French literature that French Immersion students could relate to and understand which is, by no means, an easy task. However, I did find some amazing books.
Because of luggage restrictions, I had to be very selective of the books I chose to buy in Montreal and the ones I could buy on Amazon to be delivered to my school. One book I left behind was what I hoped would be a new favourite of mine: Cent enfants imaginent comment changer le monde (One Hundred Children Imagine a Way to Change the World). I was so excited when this book was delivered this week! I immediately shared it with every French teacher I could find. They all loved it as they quickly flipped through the pages. When I finally had a few minutes to actually read the entire book, my joy turned to disappointment and then rage over this illustration:
At first, I double checked that this book was indeed Canadian and not French (as in France). Had it been published in France, the mistake would have been somewhat excusable. However, I was sorely disappointed to see that not is the illustrator Canadian, this book received funding from the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec. Secondly, I checked the publication year because maybe it’s older than I originally thought. Again, my disappointment continued – the book was published in 2013 which means that we are a Canadian Society that has had ample training in cultural sensitvity. And I’m sure that the young Noé (age 6) meant no harm in his innocent comment as to how he would change the world would be to have more First Nations people in it. But why the illustration of a blatant First Nation stereotype? And why would the Governments allow such an illustration in a book that they helped pay for?
We live in a society where Digital Citizenship is, in my opinion, still in its infancy. We are learning, albeit slowly, from our online mistakes. For example, the U of R cheerleading team’s “Cowboys and Indians” team picture. Or, the Chicago Blackhawks fan who wore a traditional First Nation headdress to a game versus the Jets this past March. Those two incidents sparked a media outcry that brought to attention why some of the things we do in fun are in fact culturally insensitive. But the major difference in these 2 incidents and the illustration in the book is this one is on a page and the other two were social media shamed.
What I have trouble understanding is that the two incidents that sparked a tremendous online media outcry was caused by a simple act that was made after an unfortunate decision. After the shaming, the public outcry from both sides of the fence and then the eventual “blow over”, most of society came away better educated on cultural sensitivity.
However, the book required the illustrator and author to work together, an editor to oversee the book and approval from the publisher to be placed in to print before it ever hit the market. With that many “Canadian” eyes on the book, how did that image of stereotypical First Nations people get approved by so many people! And how can the Government of Canada allow such a disgrace to happen in a book that they helped fund!
Just recently, another official document was brought into the social media limelight- a Grade 10 National Standardized Test with a blatant First Nation stereotype multiple choice answer. Thankfully, this test has been removed and is being rewritten. But who would make such a question? Why would that even be considered? And with regards to the book, who is being held accountable for that image? Is the illustrator to blame or the powers that allowed it to get to print? I’ve been trying to decide what to do with this book. Do I remove it and keep it as a social justice piece to share with classes? Do I remove the page with the unfortunate content or discard the book all together? Or, do I post the picture on my Twitter feed and Facebook page and shame those that allowed it to happen?
That final question would not happen by me. I do not feel that social shaming is the best course of action to take. I feel that a strongly worded email to the publisher (Les editions de la Bagnole) and the Government of Canada’s Fonds du livre du Canada (FLC) and the Conseil des arts du Canada is the right thing for me to do. The premise behind the book is ingenious and fun, but one illustration has ruined its magic for me. I will let you know what happens if I get a reply back. If I’m not happy with the response, then I may rescind my answer to that last question on the previous paragraph.