Exploring Native American Activism and Environmental Justice
We are Water Protectors
Written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2020
Note: Teachers and librarians, the author has provided this video for use during the quarantine period. When life returns to normal – whenever and whatever that looks like- please support the author and illustrator with a purchase of the book for the school or classroom library.
Depending on where you and your students live, you are experiencing the coronavirus quarantine differently than people in other parts of the country or the world. Some of you may be in large cities that are heavily impacted. Some of you may live in rural areas that have yet to see many cases of the virus. Some of your students have access to the outdoors and the natural world. Others do not. Despite these different experiences, the virus reminds each of us of the interconnected nature of our community, our country, and our planet. Each of our actions impacts someone else. This essential understanding of our interconnectedness is at the heart of We are Water Protectors, a picture book written in verse by Carole Lindstrom, tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, and illustrated by Michaela Goade, tribally enrolled with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Lindstrom begins the book grounding readers in the Ojibwe culture’s beliefs about water, and then introduces the Anishinaabe prophecy about a black snake that brings “destruction and harm” to the natural world. The book’s unnamed female protagonist rises up “To stand for the water./To stand for the land./To stand as ONE. Against the black snake.” Readers bear witness to indigenous activists of all ages and from a range of tribes and nations coming together as one to protect the water at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. Lindstrom avoids naming the pipeline specifically in the primary narrative, referring to it as the “black snake.” But detailed back matter provides readers with more information about the environmental justice activism at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation as well as the ways in which the author’s and illustrator’s individual identities inform the book’s creation. Goade’s illustrations in a palette of blues and greens shape the reader’s emotional experiences with the text and emphasize interconnectedness and diversity throughout. In this historic moment, as people around the world shelter at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there has never been a more potent time to be reminded of our need to be good stewards of the earth we share.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Celebrating Earth Day with the Author and Illustrator – April 22, 2020. Author Carole Lindstrom and illustrator Michaela Goade are offering an online Earth Day “readers visit” on Wednesday, April 22nd, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. You and your students’ families can use this sign up form to gain access.
Duet: We are Water Protectors and Hey, Water!. First, have your students read Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis (ebook available on Epic). Either through a live Zoom conversation, a class padlet, or a guided conversation between a child and their family members, have students discuss the role of water in everyday life. Why is water important? Why do we need it? What are some of the ways they are using or experiencing water in quarantine? How has their use of water changed during quarantine? Next, have students watch the video/read We are Water Protectors. Either through a live Zoom conversation, a class padlet, or a guided conversation between a child and their family members, have students discuss the book. What is it about? Why was it so important for the protagonist in We are Water Protectors to stand up to the “black snake?” After having a conversation, ask students to draw their responses, making connections across the two books. Students or family members can take pictures of their drawings and upload them to a class Google folder.
Grades 2 and Up
Take the Water Protector Pledge. Read the book together with your students if possible via videoconferencing technology such as Zoom, which would allow you to share your screen so that students can watch the video together. If this is not possible, ask students to watch the book video with their families. Find ways for students to share their thinking about the book and about the water protector pledge on the last page, through a class Padlet, synchronous Zoom conversation, a class blog entry, or a simple Google document. Next, have students brainstorm the ways in which they might be able to act as water protectors during this time of indoor quarantine. Have students develop a list of actions that they can take to safely share the water protector pledge with their friends, family, and neighbors. What can be done virtually or over the phone? How can students use the school’s website? Provide students with an opportunity to follow-up at a later date and share their experiences of advocacy.
Visual Literacy: Shaping Meaning. After reading/watching We are Water Protectors, ask students to watch the video again and explore the illustrations. Either through a live Zoom conversation, a class padlet, or a guided conversation between a child and their family members, have students discuss what they notice about the shapes used in Michaela Goade’s illustrations. Likely, they will observe that throughout the book, rounded images appear on just about every page. Why? What do those rounded images help convey? If you need support in unpacking the significance of shapes, you might want to read this short piece by illustrator Molly Bang, followed by a distillation of her theory of illustration written by A. Walter Hastings. This can help you develop the language to ask open-ended questions about the illustrations to your students. Ask students to notice when Goade does not use rounded images. Why does she make that choice? What impact does it have on the reader? Have students think about how they might illustrate their current piece of writing, and when they might use rounded images and when they might use more pointed images. Provide students with an opportunity to follow-up at a later date and share their illustrating experiences.
Writing Style: Repetition. After reading/watching We are Water Protectors, have students examine the use of repetition. Throughout the book, author Carole Lindstrom repeats the following stanza: “We stand/With our songs/And our drums./We are still here.” Why? Have students consider why the author chose that stanza to repeat. What message does it convey? How does illustrator Michaela Goode repeat an illustration pattern for each stanza? And in what way is each illustration of the stanza different? Ask students to consider how they can use repetition as a writing technique in their own work. Provide students with an opportunity to follow-up at a later date and share their experiences with repetition.
Science Connection: An In-Depth Look at the Water Cycle. After reading We are Water Protectors, revisit students’ understanding of the water cycle or explore it for the first time. There are a range of books on the water cycle available as ebooks on Epic (put “water cycle” in the search box) as well as videos (they come up below the books when you search “water cycle”). Have students explore those as well as some of the online resources listed in “Water Cycle Resources” in the Further Explorations section below. You may be inspired to adapt teaching ideas from our previous entries on All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon or Water is Water by Miranda Paul. Have students create works of art depicting the water cycle, using the material available to them. Students or family members can take pictures of their artwork and upload them to a class Google folder. All students may not have access to any conventional art materials. Work with the art teacher and the technology teachers/staff in your school to share a list of free apps for art making that might be available on phones. When students complete their artwork, cycle back to a conversation about We are Water Protectors. The book tells us that if you “[s]poil the water,” you then “[p]oison plants and animals,” because “[w]e are all related.” The book also reminds us that “[w]ater remembers our ancestors.” How are these ideas about the interconnectedness of the physical world over time supported by what students have learned about the water cycle?
Duet on Connection and Coronavirus: We are Water Protectors and Coronavirus: A Book for Children. After reading/watching We are Water Protectors, discuss students’ responses to the book through a live Zoom conversation, a class padlet, or a guided conversation between a child and their family members. Next, have students explore Coronavirus: A Book for Children, a free ebook created by Candlewick Press. Again, through a live Zoom conversation, a class padlet, or a guided conversation between a child and their family members, have students discuss their response to Coronavirus: A Book for Children. Have students compare and contrast the actions taken by the protagonist of We are Water Protectors and the children and their families in Coronavirus: A Book for Children. Use this experience about the Dakota Access Pipeline to open up student’s thoughts on the virus and their experiences of quarantine. Offer students the opportunity to write something in response. Use the various resources shared in our Pursuing Meaningful, Authentic, Student-Centered Writing During Precarious Times entry to present a range of options.
Grades 7 and Up
Changing Our Ways. Use We are Water Protectors as a scaffold into a conversation with students about the interconnectedness of our natural world. We are Water Protectors focuses on environmental justice as it relates to water in a specific place. But as the back matter makes clear, there are many ways in which we are interconnected. On April 6, 2020, scientist Jane Goodall published a piece in Slate discussing the interconnectedness of the natural world and the ways in which our current pandemic illuminates this in new ways. Goodall presents a call for action: “Restoring and protecting forests through legislation and empowering local communities will save species and prevent disease transmission. Creating alternative sustainable livelihoods will create more resilient, successful human communities. It is desperately important, in the window of time remaining, that we should all do our bit to heal the harm we have inflicted on the natural world—of which we are a part. Let us stop stealing the future from our children and from the other species with whom we share our home.” Have students research the ecological injustices faced by Native American tribes/nations and indigenous communities around the world or right at home. As they develop an understanding of a particular injustice faced by a particular group of people, have them also consider what solutions are possible. Offer students the opportunity to write something in response. Use the various resources shared in our Pursuing Meaningful, Authentic, Student-Centered Writing During Precarious Times entry to present a range of options.
The Water Protectors at Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline. After having your middle school students read/watch the video of We are Water Protectors, have them explore the concluding chapter of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, if possible, which discusses the events in 2016-2017 at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. After students read the chapter, extend and deepen their understanding of what happened through the use of multimodal texts that serve as artifacts of the events as they unfolded (see the “Standing Rock – Dakota Access Pipeline” section of “Further Explorations” below). Note that these resources have been curated from a variety of news sources and organizations. As your students read, have them note the differences in language, mood, and tone across the various sources. How do the news stories written by Native authors differ from those that aren’t? How does the information from environmental justice activists differ from that offered by Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline? Those students allowed access to Twitter might be interested in exploring the Twitter hashtag #standwithstandingrock for yet another a range of perspectives on the events of 2016-2017. The book chapter from An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People concludes with an important message for young people. “What happened at Standing Rock is not unique…you’ve seen many ways in which a country that sees itself as exceptional did not behave in exceptional ways” (p. 226-227). But the authors don’t conclude with a sense of hopelessness. Rather, they empower their young readers to take action, as Native people have done since the arrival of the first colonizers over four hundred years ago: “You can turn your knowledge into direct action in situations that affect the lives of Native people.” Encourage your students, if on social media, to follow #NativeTwitter. Have students read Indian Country Today and Native America Calling, as the authors suggest, to locate social justice projects on behalf of Native Americans that they can support as an outgrowth of their reading of this book. Offer students the opportunity to write something in response to their more in-depth exploration of this issue. Use the various resources shared in our Pursuing Meaningful, Authentic, Student-Centered Writing During Precarious Times entry to present a range of options. Portions of this teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People in September 2019. Additional resources and news items on the pipeline have been included in the Further Explorations section below, including the Standing Rock Sioux’s latest legal victory.
Native American Health During the COVID-19 Crisis. We are Water Protectors focuses on Native American activism to protect tribal land. But now a new global crisis has emerged: the COVID-19 virus. Do Native American tribes and nations have access to the same resources as states and municipalities across the country? What unique challenges have emerged for Native American tribes and nations? In what ways does the strength of specific tribal/national organizational structures, collective community, and ancestral knowledge help fight the virus? In what ways are environmental injustices, like the specific example depicted in We are Water Protectors, impacting the ability of Native Americans to fight the virus? Have students explore this Indian Country Today article from Sunday, April 19, 2020, this Associated Press story from April 18, 2020, this April 13, 2020 New York Times article, and this Indian Country Today opinion story from April 13, 2020. Next, have students read this April 4, 2020 Washington Post story on the impact of the virus on Native American communities. Ask students to compare and contrast information and language across the different stories and sources. Offer students the opportunity to write something in response. Use the various resources shared in our Pursuing Meaningful, Authentic, Student-Centered Writing During Precarious Times entry to present a range of options.
Jenner, E., Wilson, K., Roberts, N. (2020). Coronavirus: A book for children. Ill. by A. Scheffler. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (free ebook)
Water Cycle Resources
Portis, A. (2019). Hey Water! New York: Holiday House.
Classroom Bookshelf Entry on Water is Water (with additional books and online resources)
Classroom Bookshelf Entry on All the Water in the World (with additional books and online resources)
Standing Rock – Dakota Pipeline Access Resources
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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