“We must never lose sight of the children”, says Heiltsuk author Teoni Spathelfer.
The Heiltsuk Nation is a First Nations government in the Central Coast region of BC, centred on Campbell
Island in the community of Bella Bella.
The horrid discovery of the remains of 215 precious First Nations children buried on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops (British Columbia, Canada), makes Teoni’s book ever so relevant. ‘Little Wolf’ is a story that is meant to be read together, with our families or at school with our teachers. It is a tool that can help society accept and embrace cultural diversity on a global scale.
Teoni’s testimony as to the abuse and violence her own mother suffered in a residential school is indissolubly tied to her writing and her life as she travels and speaks publicly to keep her cultural heritage alive among youth.
“My mom spent 11 years at St.Michaels residential school in Alert Bay. She said it was a jail not a school. I have family who attended various residential schools and they have told me, since I was a child, that they suspected or knew of these burial sites at schools since they were kids at there. As a result I am not surprised by the discovery of a gravesite containing 215 children. I am heartbroken that they met the worst in humans. It is never to late to honour these 215 precious children by sending prayers and letting them know we love them. We can love them across the decades. Then, accountability is necessary. My mom had her hair shaved when she arrived at residential school.That’s her in the photo. I have a responsibility to my mom and our ancestors to speak.”
The compelling illustrations by Natassia Davies of Coast Salish ancestry evoke warmth and love. In perfect harmony with the plot, they engage our thoughts in issues which remain sadly current in the lives of both today’s youth and adults. Racism, bullying and isolation are still very much present in schools, in the workplace, in communities across countries, everywhere.
But Little Wolf helps readers understand how beauty can be found in the most unexpected places, despite an aching heart. Sometimes even howling at the moon can make one feel at home and comforted. After moving to the big city, Little Wolf feels lost and alone, but with her monther’s help she soon discovers how the Nature she so deeply longs for and misses also exists in the new urban setting she is trying to find her place in.
She has the opportunity of disclosing the joy of adopting a pet, of giving a lonely soul a family to be included in.
Teoni believes that:“Inclusion is the key to fighting racism”. She tells me about an experience she had at work, about an Italian lady who spoke very little English. “Nobody ever took the time to be with her because it was hard to communicate. She was always alone. So, I decided to spend time with her, and it was a pleasure. Slowly her English got better and better and we ended up being really good friends”.
Little Wolf sends a reassuring and hopeful message to young readers. It is thanks to the love and devotion of people like Teoni if children then surprise us by expressing their beauty, creativity and talent, by becoming generators of a legacy of empathy for the world to share.
In writing Little Wolf, Teoni Spathelfer was inspired by the personal experiences of three generations of the women in her family; her mom, herself and her daughters. Her second book, White Raven, will be out in September 2021.