“I contemplated how sorrow, frustration, and anger wove together with courage, resiliency, and hope, and how the art might speak to this gravity.”
First Native American illustrator to win the Caldecott Medal
Ink drawing of Michaela Goade on a map of southeastern Alaska. She is holding an open copy of We Are Water Protectors. Sitka, the ancestral home of her people and where she currently lives, is on the map, directly in her line of sight between her eyes and the open book.
It was a Sunday afternoon in 2021 and Michaela Goade was joining a video call with her editor at her publisher, when she saw the Zoom screen filled with many more faces than she was expecting. They were the members of the Caldecott committee and they were sharing the exciting news that Michaela had won the Caldecott Medal that year for her artwork in the book We Are Water Protectors.
The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children. She is the first Native American to win the prestigious award.
The author, Carole Lindstrom, wrote We are Water Protectors in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota:
In early 2016, local Native Americans began protesting construction of the oil pipeline, viewing the pipeline as a significant threat to Standing Rock’s water sources, as well as a danger to important cultural sites. Beginning with a few hundred, the water protectors’ ranks swelled to over 10,000 and included members of tribal nations from across the United States, as well as people from all over the world, including Tibet and Guatemala. The Trump administration eventually bulldozed over the water protectors’ wishes and completed the pipeline. Oil began flowing through the pipeline in May, with a capacity to transport 750,000 barrels a day.
An enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Goade grew up in Juneau on the traditional lands of her people surrounded by what she describes as, “A labyrinth of over one thousand islands, endless waterways, and wild, rugged coastlines…with a kaleidoscope of glaciers and fjords, rivers and waterfalls, lakes.” Living among the water and as a Tlingit (meaning People of the Tides) the water protectors’ cause touched Goade. She leapt at the opportunity to illustrate Carole’s book.
“Water is a way of life here [in Alaska], and it is our life here in so many different ways. So that core theme really resonated. And I remember, like Carole, feeling helpless during the Stand at Standing Rock,” said Michaela.
Goade painted her illustrations for We Are Water Protectors over several months in 2018. Painting her vibrant watercolors in a tiny studio next to the sea, Goade, hoped her art would inspire a new generation of water protectors:
“I contemplated how sorrow, frustration, and anger wove together with courage, resiliency, and hope, and how the art might speak to this gravity. In this book, it was especially crucial that all children, Native and non-Native alike, came away from the experience feeling autonomous and empowered,” she said in her Caldecott acceptance speech.
As for the Dakota Access Pipeline that inspired the book, litigation is ongoing on both sides. The pipeline has leaked at least 5 times as of 2021.
Trained in graphic design and working as an art director at a marketing agency, Goade got her start illustrating children’s books with 2017’s Shanyaak’utlaax: Salmon Boy, a story about respecting the natural world.
“Picture books spoke my language like nothing before had. They became a way to reconnect with my culture, find my artistic voice and give back to the Native community in a unique way,” she says of the career change. “Children’s books are reflections of our society. They often communicate who is visible and important in today’s world. Therefore, representation that reflects the very diverse experiences of Native Americans is much needed.”
Since Salmon Boy, Goade has illustrated several award-winning books, including Berry Song in 2022, her first release as an author.
Theme music comes from Geovane Bruno. Other music in this episode comes from water protectors inspired by the Standing Rock protests, including Taboo, Aliza Hava, and Dee Snider.
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