The two women behind a book about living on the land in northern Saskatchewan embarked on the project hoping to inspire future generations to get back to the bush. When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Trapline is an illustrated children's book that is a collaboration between author and illustrator Miriam Körner and La Ronge elder Ida Tremblay. Tremblay, who contributed stories and knowledge to the book, died before before she could see it published, but the book's lessons and spirit are largely thanks to her, according to Körner.
"In many ways she's still there, because what she has taught us is so profound that it is not just tied to the person that she is, but walking through the bush and seeing things through her eyes or with her teachings in mind," she said.
"Sometimes it makes me feel like she's still there, but there's also this incredible sense of loss, because she had so much more to teach us."
A portion of the book's title is translated into Cree. It details what it's like to live off the land and now has a home in schools and classrooms across northern Saskatchewan. After Tremblay's passing, Körner said she didn't want to finish the book, but said she received support from Tremblay's family that allowed her to continue with the project.
"Ida's wish was always that when children read this book, they get curious about life in the bush, and they start asking their own grandparents or elders in their community and maybe they go out in the bush and live it a little bit," she said. The book is now for sale at numerous retailers and Tremblay's portion of the sales will be donated to schools in northern Saskatchewan at the request of her family. Körner explained that while the project is still important to her, it is not free of sadness.
"Of course it feels good because it is something close to my heart but it also feels like there's a big hole. There's a big gap. There's something missing," she said. "I would have rather stood in the back and listened to Ida talk to you on the radio right now, and have her read the stories, and have children ask her about those experiences, because with every page she would have read, she would have told more stories."
For more information about Körner's work, visit her author page on the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild website.