Fifteen people gathered in James Dunn Hall at St. Thomas University on March 19 to celebrate the launch of Mi’kmaq Alphabet Book, a new children’s book by author and current STU student Shyla Augustine from Elsipogtog First Nation.
“I want to thank my kid and the children down at the [University of New Brunswick] Childhood Center. They were my inspiration and where it all started,” said Augustine.
She grew up speaking Mi’kmaq with her grandmother. She said if anyone came into her grandmother’s house and tried to speak English to her, Augustine’s grandmother would instruct them to speak Mi’kmaq.
But when she transferred to a school off of her reserve, she said she began to lose her language.
Augustine realized that her children didn’t speak Mi’kmaq and their family was losing their connection to the language.
But her children weren’t just her inspiration for writing the book, they were also an active part of the process.
“They had a big part in actually creating the book with me, choosing the animals,” said Augustine. “I chose ‘D’ for deer on purpose, because my son’s spirit name is Little Deer.”
She also included her brother’s spirit name, Sleeping Otter, by choosing an otter lying on its back as the representation for the letter ‘O.’
“It’s not just me. We did it together as a team, we did it as a family.”
But it wasn’t just Augustine’s family that was influenced by the book.
Illustrator Braelyn Cyr said her family was also impacted by the book. She said her father was denied knowledge of the Mi’kmaq language as a child and struggled pronouncing words, but watching him learn the language as an adult has been an amazing experience.
“I think it’s so vital right now for where we are as Indigenous Peoples, and that even at home it’s kind of started this new thing for me with my family,” said Cyr.
Miigam’agan, St. Thomas University’s Elder-in-Residence, was also at the event. She addressed audience members in Mi’kmaq, before offering praise in English for Augustine and her book’s role in the process of reconciliation.
“It’s truly an honour to be here today. To come to open and call upon our ancestors to come and celebrate and acknowledge the great work and collaboration of how we’re moving forward and it’s just to say, ‘this is what reconciliation begins to look like,'” said Miigam’agan.
The book has been in the works for about two years and was stalled for a bit because of COVID-19. The book has already been shortlisted for the New Brunswick Book Awards and Monster House Publishing received requests for pre-order from across the province.
Paul McAllister, owner of Monster House Publishing, said every baby born in New Brunswick in 2021 will get a copy of the book through the Born to Read program. Born to Read N.B. is an early childhood literacy program that presents newborns in N.B. with a book bag to promote reading aloud to children from birth.
Augustine said she is proud that this book will be used to help educate children on the Mi’kmaq language and culture. She is already planning her next book, possibly about numbers, and is excited to share more with her community.
“This was built on loving and family connections,” said Augustine. “The love of teaching for me, the love of my family and the love of learning.”