Today’s interview is with Violet Duncan author of I Am Native. Violet is Plains Cree and Taino from Kehewin Cree Nation. She has toured nationally and internationally as a dancer and storyteller. Violet is currently a Professor at South Mountain Community College: Storytelling Institute. She is also a former "Miss Indian World," representing all Indigenous people of North America.
What inspired you to write I Am Native?
I was inspired to write I Am Native so that people who are new to Native culture, would see a side-by-side of Nehiyaw (Cree) and N'dee (Apache) peoples practicing their Native and modern cultures. I also wrote this book for Native children and their family members, so that they would see themselves as they are today. The intention of the book is to bring both worlds we live in together on the page, ending the confusion that Native people are all gone.
How long did it take you to write this book?
This book took three years from first thought to print. I wanted to make sure the language was very easy to read for our young readers. I also wanted the illustration to showcase native culture correctly and that part took a lot more time.
Did you have critique or writing partners?
My family members are my critique and writing partners. Everything I write first goes through my children and they are very honest with me. Next, I share with my husband and mom and they offer a lot of insight. After family members, I share my writing and early illustrations with elders in my home community. This stage is very important to me. Sharing our culture is a process and I am always learning; I feel better knowing my elders are on my side and encourage me to keep going.
You decided to self-publish instead of having a traditional publisher for your book. Why?
Self-publishing puts you right into the driver's seat and allows you full control of the writing and illustrating process. This was really important to me since some pages would take me months to write to get the feeling just right.
There’s a big emphasis on family and intergenerational relationships in your book. Tell us why that was important to feature.
All across Turtle Island, (the name for earth or North America), you will see many different Native Nations sharing their music, songs, stories, and dances through a multigenerational teaching style. There is no "school" that teaches all the dances, stories and songs from one Nation. You learn from family and community members. It is not uncommon to have a household with children, parents, grandparents and maybe even aunts and uncles living together. Each generation offers new experiences and knowledge and this has always been the way Native culture is passed down.
In your book, the children experience both traditional Native experiences and modern-day experiences. What is your message in depicting it that way?
When my children go to school, their peers are always so curious when they find out we are from Native Nations (Cree/Apache/Taino/Arikara/Hidatsa/Mandan), they ask what we do at home, what we eat and if we live in a tipi. Yes, in 2020 we are still asked if we live in tipis. I wrote this book for those children. I needed a crystal clear format so that it was understood that we are human beings, multi-disciplined, articulate and proud. We are athletes because we practice both basketball drills and hoop dancing drills. We are dancers in ballet and Jingle dress dance. We are not something stuck in the past, we are not gone, we are here.
What is your message for both Native and non-Native children that read your book?
For all children, my message is to be proud of who you are. For Native children, my message is to be proud of your culture because we come from strong, resilient people that have been passing down our indigenous knowledge since time immemorial.
Where can readers find you online?
You can find me on Facebook and Instagram @violetduncan but also check out my website www.violetduncan.com