Language revitalization and gender diversity: Dallas Hunt’s interview about “Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock”

Language revitalization and gender diversity: Dallas Hunt's interview about "Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock"

Dallas Hunt is a teacher, writer, and member of Wapisewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta, Canada. He is also the author of Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, illustrated by Amanda Strong.

In his debut children’s book, Dallas Hunt includes words in Cree and traditional methods of storytelling. The story features Awâsis, a young Cree girl seeking out help from a variety of other-than-human relatives after losing her Kôhkum’s world-famous bannock.

  1. How did you incorporate issues that you care about into Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock?
    I moonlight as a teacher when I’m not writing poetry or children’s books, so sometimes my orientation to writing can take on a sort of pedagogical approach. But I wanted to highlight or foreground issues that I’m passionate about in Awâsis: language revitalization, kinship, among other things. It is important to me that Awâsis and the other characters not only speak Cree, but that they have a relationship premised on sharing and respect. So often our relation to “the natural world” and our other-than-human kin can be based on extraction or extractive logics, so I wanted to put forth other ideas in the book, ones that might reflect or be more in line with Cree teachings or Cree ways of being in the world.
  2. Why did you decide to include Cree in your story?
    I’m a strong proponent of language revitalization, so I knew that my first children’s book would deal primarily with the Cree language in some capacity. As a lifelong learner of nêhiyawêwin, which is to say, as someone who is not fluent and who works every day towards fluency, I wanted to provide a readable text that has phrases and words that might be helpful to young Cree awâsisak or really any new or beginning Cree language learners. Also, I love the word sîsîp. Say it aloud. Right now. It’s fun.
  1. There are lots of recipes for bannock, where did this one come from?
    This is nôhkôm’s (my grandmother’s) recipe. I asked her if she would be okay if I included her recipe in a children’s book and she said “yes.” That said, you’re right, there are so many bannock recipes out there, and this recipe is meant in no way to be prescriptive or “the one true bannock recipe.” Some people use lard, some people don’t use milk—I’ve heard all sorts of interesting and scrumptious-sounding recipes.
  1. In the story, there is a scene where Awâsis and her Kohkum bake bannock together. Have you ever baked with your Kohkum? Is there anything in particular that you would make?
    The first time I made bannock was with my kohkum. She came over to nikâwiy’s (my mother’s) and taught me how to make bannock and frybread—or, more specifically, “fried bannock.” I’ve learned a lot from my kohkum, nikâwiy, and the women in my family more generally. I hold great admiration for them and am in awe of all of them, so when I can be in the same kitchen as them, especially to make bannock, I jump at the opportunity.

PG 13. Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock

  1. Reviewers mentioned the connection that Awâsis’s story has to that of Little Red Riding Hood. In writing the book, were you inspired by any elements of that fairy tale?
    I didn’t think about Little Red Riding Hood once while writing the story, so whenever I hear that I’m surprised and a little curious about it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the association or people commenting on the similarities, though I’m always fascinated with how stories about Indigenous peoples, communities, or characters are legible more broadly (or are made legible) to audiences. My hope is that if I continue with other stories about Awâsis, that the character and the story will be taken on their own terms, which might necessitate me injecting more Cree into the narrative (which I would be happy to do!)
  1. Why did you decide to give the owl the pronoun “they”?
    In short, I wanted to normalize gender variance and gender diversity within our languages and communities. I spoke with Debbie Reese, who has an amazing site dedicated to Indigenous children’s literature, about this question recently, specifically because someone in the comments section of her site had said that the Cree language did not contain (or have the possibly to contain) the singular “they.” I wondered if the post was by someone who may be uncomfortable with gender diversity within our language(s). It also presumes that Cree, as a language, is static, cemented in time, and not a living language that would be able to account for our gender diverse relatives (in the present moment or historically). For instance, why couldn’t the personal pronoun “wîya” in Cree refer to “she/he/they”? It’s heartbreaking to me that some would foreclose on that possibility and allow English to house our relations better than Cree could. All of that said, I’m not an authority on this issue, nor am I the first or only person to be doing this work. There are numerous Indigenous women, queer, Two-Spirit, trans, non-binary, and other gender diverse peoples generating texts and other creative works and social practices with these thoughts very much at the forefront, and they’ve been doing it for much longer than I have.
  1. Readers may not know that Awâsis was originally written as a boy in the manuscript. Was there a reason why you decided to change Awâsis to a girl?
    Mainly, Awâsis was a boy because I liked the alliteration of the original title (“A Boy and His Bannock”). But after an editor (the wonderful Desirae Warkentin) suggested changing the title of the text to Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock because it would be more descriptive and because children might enjoy the superlative, then I began to think “why does Awâsis have to be a boy?” If there are future iterations of Awâsis, then I hope the character will occupy a variety of gender positions, in order to gesture to the great gender diversity within our communities, a diversity that is at times unrecognized, uncelebrated, silenced, erased, and, in some cases, punished. In the wider “Awâsis universe,” there is room for all our relations.
  1. Amanda Strong’s illustrations really make the story come to life. What was the process of working with an illustrator like, and what do you like about the artwork in your book?
    This book would not exist without Amanda’s wonderful illustrations. Amanda had provided an early mock-up of Awâsis, and when I asked her if she could possibly make the story look a little more “whimsical,” she came back with really the whole aesthetic of the book. And I couldn’t be happier with it. If you enjoy the illustrations in the text, I would recommend checking out the rest of Amanda’s work, including the short film Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes), as well as the other work of Spotted Fawn Productions. It’s really all quite incredible and I’m very lucky to have gotten the chance to work with Amanda. Many thanks to her for bringing Awâsis to life! Hiy hiy!

Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock


Click here to see Amanda Strong’s illustrations in Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock for yourself and order your copy today.

 

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