A Métis woman with roots in Sault Ste. Marie has published her first children’s book in an effort to depict a strong, resilient Indigenous woman as a central character while weaving undertones of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people into her story.
This week, Willie Poll released Together We Drum, Our Hearts Beat as One, an illustrated book which uses images created by Anishinaabe artist Chief Lady Bird in order to tell her story.
“The story follows a young Indigenous girl who goes out looking for adventure, and she comes up against this monster — and through her connection to her matriarch ancestors, she is able to overcome the obstacles in her life,” said Poll, speaking with SooToday from her home in Charlottetown, P.E.I. “It’s a really fun story for kids. There’s a lot of underlying tones of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, and the addtional barriers that women and girls have to face, especially Indigenous women and girls who are still 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered in Canada.”
An educator with a decade of experience in Indigenous education and a stint at White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School under her belt, Poll says her story borrows heavily from her experiences in working with young Indigenous girls in Sault Ste. Marie.
“I don’t see a lot of representation of Indigenous characters in kids books, especially Indigenous girls,” she said. “We see that the majority of children’s books have boys as the main character, so I really wanted a strong Indigenous future matriarch as the lead.
“I think for me, every community I’ve worked in or been a part of, they’ve been affected by missing and murdered Indigenous women, and they’ve had a sister, an auntie, a cousin, a mother go missing, and the majority of missing and murdered women have children.”
Poll decided to make the tale’s protagonist an Anishinaabe girl in order to complement the artwork of Chief Lady Bird, who embedded her Anisinaabe culture within the illustrations throughout Together We Drum, Our Hearts Beat as One.
“I couldn’t imagine somebody else being able to bring it to life the way that she did,” said Poll. “I had been a Chief Lady Bird fan for so long, and just getting to work with her was incredible.
I really had no idea what the visuals were going to look like. I’m not a visual person at all. I had very few notes to give her about what to create, and she just sort of read the text — and I think that she felt as drawn to the text as I did, and she just created this beautiful world within it.”
Poll says the reaction to Together We Drum, Our Hearts Beat as One has been positive and it’s been selling well after being officially released Oct. 11. The Métis author has been receiving messages from people who have read the book to their students, or who came across the book at a library or doctor’s office.
“It’s been neat to have people to message me and say they’ve felt so emotional reading the story and that it really touched them, and they really want to know more about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people and how they can support Indigenous initiatives,” she said. “We’ve a whirlwind of really great responses, which has been amazing.”
Being a published author hasn’t fully sunk in yet, Poll says.
“When I went to Chapters and I found my book on the shelves, it was a really interesting feeling. I think all the staff there thought I’m totally insane, because I’m just like, crying and then super excited, and they had no idea who I was,” she said. “I think it was just really surreal to see the book and hold it, and I think it’s even more surreal seeing kids across Turtle Island reading it and empowering young Indigenous girls. I’m loving it.”
Poll has another children’s book due out in the spring of next year, with a series of graphic novels and a third children’s book that are currently in the works. More information on Poll can be found on her website and Instagram account.