Montreal writer pens illustrated book on Tlicho canoe journey

The annual canoe tour Trails of our Ancestors is a rite of passage for many Tlicho youths.

Each year, nearly 100 participants spend 10 days paddling between churches, learning ascendant stories, and living in the countryside.

Nadine Neema explains that the journey is transformative in many ways.

“They are starting to learn parts about themselves and their tradition and take their place in it in ways I think a lot of them haven’t really done before,” she said.

Nadine Neema is the author of Journey of a Traveling Girl. A story told through daily diary entries of 11-year-old Jules, who embarks on the annual journey of our ancestors from Wekweeti to Behchoko. Photo courtesy Leslie Kenny.

In her new book Journey of Traveling Girl, Neema explores the transformation that inspired the journey of a young paddler, 11-year-old Jules, as she travels from Snare Lake, Wekweeti to Behchoko to attend the Tlicho Agreement ceremony to participate in August 2005.

As Jules begins to drag her feet, she soon gains an appreciation for the history and culture of Tlicho.

Neema said she was trying to strike a balance between educating readers about the 2005 agreement – the first combined land claim and self-government agreement in the NWT and the second of its kind in Canada – while maintaining the fictional story aspect of which she hopes the audience will love to read. “

Neema lived in Wekweeti for many years and has twice embarked on the Trails of the Ancestors canoe tour.

The journey is both internal and physical, she said.

“It’s an incredible experience, but it’s also one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.”

As the band manager of the Dechi Laot’i First Nation in the ’90s and early 2000s, Neema had seen many Trail of our Ancestors groups leave and return over the years. Later, as part of the Dogrib Treaty 11 Council team, she again watched from the sidelines as they worked together in preparation for the Tlicho’s transition to self-government.

Nadine Neema says that the journey of our ancestors is a rite of passage and in many ways a transformative experience for many Tlicho youths. Photo courtesy of Nadine Neema.

After the deal was signed, Neema wrote a guest column in News / North about the meaning of the claim and the celebrations that followed its inception. John B. Zoe, chief negotiator for the Tlicho Accords, later suggested turning this play into a children’s story. Neema liked the idea but wasn’t sure how exactly she would do it.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Neema traveled back north from Montreal to take the ship on the voyage. She returned the following summer. Then the story really took shape, she said.

Neema has known many young people on the trip all their lives.

Watching the way they learned from the elders and lived in the country is the creation of characters and the story that Zoe suggested years earlier became realistic.

Neema said she sees her audience in two groups, Tlicho readers and others. She hopes that both groups can learn about the deal and that a traveling girl’s trip will awaken a desire to delve deeper into its meaning.

She also hopes to “increase awareness of the trails (trip) … and maybe it will inspire others to write about their own experiences on the trails.”

In addition to her work in the Tlicho communities, Neema is also a professional musician. She has released four albums, opened for Elton John, Joe Cocker and Cyndi Lauper, and was cared for by the late Leonard Cohen.

The Journey of a Traveling Girl is a novel inspired by the writer Nadine Neema’s years who lived and worked in Wekweeti. Photo courtesy Leslie Kenny.

Journey of a Traveling Girl is available for purchase and Neema will be hosting a virtual launch on Tuesday November 24th.

The launch will include readings, a question-and-answer period, freebies for books, and discussions with the Tlicho Government’s Director of Culture and Land Conservation, Tammy Steinwand. The virtual start can be streamed via Neema’s Facebook page as well as via the Heritage House, the Yellowknife Book Cellar and the Tlicho page at 7 p.m. (CET).

In the New Year, Neema plans to visit the Tlicho schools virtually as soon as they have the opportunity to read the book.

While she couldn’t travel north for the 15th anniversary of the Tlicho Accords, Neema is hoping to get to the area next summer for the 100th anniversary of Contract 11, and speculates that a personal event for the book might then be possible .

While Neema admits that the process of writing a book is not without its challenges and shares the culture and stories of Tlicho, she said, “I’ve always felt very privileged to be a part of it.”

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