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Minnesota children's book brings Seven Grandfather Teachings to life

A newly published children’s book by Red Lake author Elizabeth Barrett and illustrator Jonathan Thunder brings the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth to colorful life for young and old.

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"Mashkiki Road" tells the story of three young cousins who encounter beings that show them the Seven Grandfather Teachings.
Contributed / Minnesota Historical Society Press
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RED LAKE, Minn. — The Seven Grandfather Teachings of Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth are deeply ingrained in the Anishinaabe culture.

A newly published children’s book by Red Lake author Elizabeth Barrett and illustrator Jonathan Thunder brings those teachings to colorful life for young and old.

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The book is illustrated by Red Lake Band member Jonathan Thunder, a Duluth-based artist.
Contributed / Minnesota Historical Society Press

“Mashkiki Road,” published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, was the brainchild of Thomas Barrett, CEO of the Red Lake Boys and Girls Club. He reached out to his niece, Elizabeth, and to artist Thunder with the idea. The result is a delightful 30-page book, the royalties of which will benefit the Boys and Girls Club for years to come.

“I’m really proud of the book,” Thomas said. “It’s a really cool way to show the world a piece of our Ojibwe culture. Being from Red Lake, I take extra pride in knowing that I brought together two Red Lake band members to create the book. I’m real big on the seven teachings, incorporating that into any type of teaching or programming or presentations.”

In the story, three young cousins explore the woods in search of medicines that heal and purify, while gathering advice from wise beings who offer life lessons cherished through generations.

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“I’m running low on medicines,” says their Grandma Mindy. So the cousins — Lily, Ogimaa and Ellie — are ready to help. Together they will travel Mashkiki Road, the road where the medicines grow, in search of sage and cedar for Grandma.

On their journey, they receive teachings from the Eagle (love), the Buffalo (respect), the Bear (courage), the Sabe or Sasquatch (honesty), the Beaver (wisdom), the Wolf (humility) and the Turtle (truth).

All of the scenes are beautifully illustrated by Thunder, who was born in Red Lake, grew up in the Twin Cities and now lives in Duluth.

“I had done some research because I worked on a couple of murals in recent years where the subject was the Seven Teachings,” Thunder said. “I was able to work with the concepts and create visual content from that. I try to live according to those general teachings, even prior to this project. It’s common sense for most people. The world could use more of that.”

It is the first book for Elizabeth Barrett, a 2021 Dartmouth College graduate who majored in English and minored in women, gender and sexuality studies with a concentration in creative writing.

While she hopes to write more books, she recently was hired as a curriculum writer for the prevention program at Red Lake Chemical Health.

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Author Elizabeth Barrett reads part of "Mashkiki Road" at a recent book signing event.
Contributed

Elizabeth, 22, has enjoyed recent book signing events and is proud to be a part of the “Mashkiki Road” project.

“It’s really great,” she said. “It’s been super exciting to see the book get into the hands of young people, just knowing that they’re liking it and getting a little bit from it.”

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Readers will get a glimpse of Red Lake scenes when they flip through the book. That was intentional from Thunder, 45, who attended the Institute of American Indian Art in New Mexico and the Art Institutes International Minnesota.

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Artist Jonathan Thunder incorporated some Red Lake area scenery when he illustrated "Mashkiki Road."
Contributed

“When I started creating the work (on ‘Mashkiki Road’), I wanted to incorporate some scenery that you would see around Red Lake, such as the Red Lake water tower, and draw inspiration from areas within the town of Red Lake,” Thunder said. “So that when people look at it, if they’re familiar with the area, it will be interesting for them to find those little Easter eggs.”

“Mashkiki Road” is available on Amazon or through the Minnesota Historical Society Press website at shop.mnhs.org.

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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