For Indigenous People’s Day today, let’s take a look at the few queer-inclusive children’s books that celebrate indigenous people and cultures, and ask why there aren’t more.
- Families, written by Jesse Unaapik Mike and Kerry McCluskey and illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko (Inhabit Media), is the story of Talittuq, a second-grade boy living with his mother in Iqaluit, the capital city of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. One year at the start of school, he realizes the many different family configurations that he, his friends, and his teacher have. While the plot in some ways sticks to well-worn paths trod by many other LGBTQ-inclusive books celebrating families, it stands out for its focus on an indigenous family and its use of Inuktitut terms and names throughout. (There’s a glossary at the end, although much is also understandable from the context.) Mike herself was raised in Iqaluit by a single mother, giving the book grounding and authenticity. Publisher Inhabit Media is an Inuit-owned publishing company with its head office in Iqaluit. And yes, the October Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a U.S. observance, while National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada is held every June 21st. Still, indigenous stories, authors, and publishers deserve our support, not just today, but any day, and it’s great to see this goodhearted story that is queer inclusive as well. (Full review.)
- Colors of Aloha, written by Kanoa Kau-Arteaga and illustrated by J.R. Keaolani Bogac-Moore, follows a group of Hawai’ian children, plus one older brother and his boyfriend, as they explore their island and learn their colors, along with tidbits about various native Hawai’ian legends, culture, and foods. The joyous tale is published by queer-focused micro-press Flamingo Rampant, and only available through them.
- 47,000 Beads, written by Koja and Angel Adeyoha, and illustrated by Holly McGillis, also from Flamingo Rampant, tells of a Lakota child who gets a little help in expressing a two-spirit self and dancing at a pow wow.
- When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos Cantamos, written by Ernesto Javier Martínez and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez (Reflection Press) is a gorgeous bilingual book in English and Spanish that honors the Mexican serenata tradition even as reframes it to include one boy creating a love song for another, with the help of his father. While it is a celebration of Mexican culture broadly speaking and the characters are not identified as indigenous, it includes references to Xochipilli, the Mesoamerican Nahua deity of creativity, dance, and song. A note at the end reminds us that “The Nahua people still continue to inhabit Central Mexico to this day.” (Full review.)
These are all great books for reading at any time, whether they reflect your own culture and experiences or offer windows into others. Still, I would love to see even more queer-inclusive children’s books that include indigenous characters and families (and people of color more generally), both from small presses like the above and from the major publishing houses. If Pete Buttigieg can have a picture book biography, why not Sharice Davids, the first openly LGBTQ Native American and one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress? An enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, she was raised by a single mother and worked to put herself through college—then went on to law school, a mixed martial arts career, work in economic and community development on Native American reservations, and a stint as a White House Fellow under President Obama, before running successfully to become a U.S. representative for Kansas. Hers is only one of many, many stories waiting to be told.
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