by Samantha VanNorden *
On October 10th, Dr. Alan Syliboy presented a talk to students and faculty at MSVU’s Aboriginal Student Centre. Dr. Syliboy began the discussion by giving the audience some context for his book The Thundermaker. For Syliboy, the reality of growing up as an indigenous person was that school was something for him to endure. He told us that while he and his family and friends were fluent in Mi’kmaq, he lost his fluency during his enrollment in a Catholic school, where indigenous students were not allowed to speak it. This sort of outlawing of speech led to dispersion of the language, and Syliboy explained that he is now having to relearn it.
These ideas of relearning and of finding voice are evident in the text of The Thundermaker. Little Thunder’s mother Giju is a storyteller, and it is through her that Little Thunder learns about his identity: to be the Thundermaker. Being the Thundermaker means Little Thunder must take his father’s place in the role, which suggests renewal, but it also has a larger meaning in the circle of life. The Thundermaker’s job is to strike the old dead trees and burn them to make room for new life. This, too, has markings of renewal, balance, and cyclicality. Little Thunder learns of this through the story cycles his mother tells him within the warmth of the wigwam.
Syliboy informed us that the story cycles were shared during the winter and explained that this telling and retelling of stories functions like a “hard drive,” in this case, grounding and reinforcing culture. To pass on these stories is seen as a responsibility, and Dr. Syliboy is certainly adding to the layers of storytelling with his visual artistry, his writing, and his book The Thundermaker.
If you want to find out if Little Thunder succeeds in becoming the Thundermaker or about his journey on this path with friends such as Wolverine, you can (and should!) pick up a copy of The Thundermaker.
You can purchase it from Nimbus Publishing here:
Dr. Syliboy’s visit was arranged by Dr. Rhoda Zuk for her Indigenous Canadian Children’s Literature class (ENGL 3305).
* Samantha VanNorden is a fourth-year English student at the Mount. She is the English Department’s media assistant for 2017-2018.