The inspiration for this Innu archeologist's new children's book? Herself

Jodie Ashini said her own experience working in archaeology inspired her new children's book. (John Gaudi/CBC - image credit)
Jodie Ashini said her own experience working in archaeology inspired her new children's book. (John Gaudi/CBC - image credit)
John Gaudi/CBC
John Gaudi/CBC

An Innu cultural guardian relied on her passion for preserving history while creating a new children's book about the wonder of archaeology.

Jodie Ashini, who co-wrote Uapikun and the Tshiashinnuat with Hugh Wheeler, said her own experience as an archaeologist inspired the story.

"When I pick up these artifacts that haven't been touched for thousands of years … I wonder how they used it. What were they doing in this time?" she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"You always use your imagination."

The book tells the story of Uapikun, a young Innu girl who is transported thousands of years back in time after picking up a fishing spear at an archeological dig in Labrador. Uapikun learns to catch and clean a fish, and how to respect animals.

"For a quick little book … really, there's a lot of learning to it," she said.

Ashini said she wanted children to feel connected with thousands of years of Innu culture.

"We made it. We survived thousands of years on this land and I don't think children nowadays understand that long history," she said.

John Gaudi/CBC
John Gaudi/CBC

Ashini said Wheeler approached her to co-write the story a couple of years ago. Ashini, cultural guardian for the Innu Nation, has been working in archaeology for nearly two decades.

Uapikun and the Tshiashinnuat is the latest instalment of the Adventures of Uapikun series, which is printed in Innu, English and French, and includes books about dog safety, rabies and more. Ashini said Uapikun and the Tshiashinnuati will be used in schools.

Guarding history

Ashini said her father, Indigenous rights advocate and former Innu Nation president Daniel Ashini, inspired her passion for archaeology.

Ashini remembers her father telling her about a trip to Innu lands flooded due to construction of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in the 1970s.

"It was like actual devastation. There was nothing left; the Innu footprint was literally wiped off the map," she said. "Hearing the hurt in his voice about the devastation left on the land — I think that resonated with me deeply."

Ashini said her father told her about discovering a skull from a burial site, exposed by the eroded riverbank. Ashini said though she was just seven years old at the time, the incident made her determined to protect Innu culture.

"I'm never gonna let our culture be destroyed without having someone there to monitor, to make sure that we protect it," she said.

Ashini said the book will allow her to share that determination with her own child.

"I get to read this to my little girl and explain to her of her ancestors and how lucky we are that they fought so hard," she said. "We are still here today, thankfully for them."

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