By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Indigenous Reporter
(ANNews) – Shayla Raine has created a powerful Cree poetry book called The Way Creator Sees You which is a long, free verse poem about a Plains Cree boy named Kihew. She credits her upbringing, family, and community for her success.
Raine is a 22-year old Nehiyaw Iskwew from Louis Bull Tribe in Maskwacis, Alberta currently, studying Human Kinetics at The University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO).
“I became a young mother at 15,” she said, “and with the support of my family, I was able to graduate on time from Ponoka Secondary Campus in 2017.”
She said once she graduates from UBCO she wants to give back to Indigenous communities and advocate for health and wellness.
In her book, Kihew finds himself struggling with his Indigenous features such as his long hair and skin. His Kokom empowers him with self-love and acceptance as she explains the values behind his hair and name. The goal of this poem is to not only empower Indigenous children but ignite a fire in them to stand rooted and proud in who they are.
Raine said that many people and experiences inspired her to write The Way Creator Sees You.
“I’ve wanted to write books since I was a child and I started by making comics in elementary. Once I hit adulthood, I realized that I wanted to make books for Indigenous youth because I never saw people that looked like me on book covers growing up,” she explained.
“I also wanted something fun and artistic to do as an outlet from editing the second draft of my fiction novel, Mimikwas. My partner helped me a lot with brainstorming book ideas to help empower Indigenous children. I wrote a poem for him months prior and at the end of it I wrote, “Do you see yourself the way the Creator sees you?” This phrase came naturally to me because it came from a place of love. That’s how I got the title of this book and the motivation to write the poem-it all came from a place of love.”
Raine also added she wanted to highlight the important role of our Elders.
“My grandparents are my rocks,” she said. “When I was 10, I was called a ‘dirty Indian’ for the first time at school. I didn’t look at myself the same for a few days and then I mustered up the courage to tell my grandparents. I cannot remember the exact words they said to me, but they gave me strength that I still carry today to always be proud to be Nehiyaw.”
When Raine got pregnant as a teenager she said her Kokom told her, “Children don’t ask to be born. We bring them here. They are gifts from the Creator and it is our responsibility to take care of them.”
Raine hopes that her book aids in healing kinship ties within Indigenous families. The Kokom in the book plays a big role, shedding light on the importance of our matriarchs. When writing the poem, she imagined parents reading to their child before bed and these words having a compounding effect on the child’s self-esteem and the relationship they have with their parents.
Children are sponges, she said. If you speak degrading words to children, they will soak that up and it will negatively affect their self-esteem. But if you speak kindly to them and lift them, they will flourish.
Raine said, “Whatever role the reader holds, whether they are a biological parent, foster parent, aunt, uncle, Kokom, Mosom, etc – when they take the time to sit down and read this to a child, they are giving them good medicine.”
Raine shared that she was born and raised in Kisipatnahk (Louis Bull) tribe in Maskwacis, Alberta. During her time there she played hockey with the Maskwacis Hawks as a youth.
She explained that working in a summer program when she was 18 as a mentor for students on her reserve helped her realize how much she wanted to give back to her community.
“My community has inspired me a lot with my writing,” she said.
Raine is currently working through the second draft of her novel, Mimikwas, which she hopes will be published later this year. The fiction novel is based in Maskwacis.
“Writing has helped me appreciate where I come from. Everything from the beautiful sunrises, dirt roads, landscapes, elders, and even the rez dogs have inspired me to write,” concluded Raine.
“Maskwacis will always be home to me and I will always try to find ways I can give back to the community that raised me.”
Shayla is beautiful as are her words of inspiration!