One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting in my grandmother’s arms as she read to me. These were the same stories that she read to my father.

Photo by Kaluhya Muscavutch VanEvery

Kaluhya Muscavutch VanEvery | Oneida, WI

They were probably the same stories that were read to her—old books that had been read in my family for generations. When I was a kid, I had books on cassette, which has evolved to online audiobooks I now share with my children. I can put my children to bed with that same cozy feeling that my grandmother gave me. With so many options available on the Internet I began to compile a YouTube playlist for them and realized there were very few books from our cultural perspective as Oneida people. Native American’s have unique norms, including our views of the natural world. I wanted my children to experience books that represented them. This is where my project began, reading and recording children’s books that had been written by Indigenous artists. 

Our library had a few picture books written by Native American authors, which is only a small percentage of what has been published. Months into Covid with schools and libraries closed, I knew that access to Indigenous picture books became even more rare. Recalling that feeling of connection when my grandmother read to me, I realized that I could read these books and make them available. So I started a YouTube Channel

My YouTube Channel is called Story Time with Kaluhya and it features books written and illustrated by Native American artists, especially books that are not available widely. I started this project in November, with books that my kids liked and then researched and purchased books I wanted to read out loud. By January I was able to put a few books on my YouTube channel. I’ve been consistently reading and recording books and editing ever since.

Story Time with Kaluhya went from a project that I felt my children needed, to realizing that it’s bigger than that. It’s something that all children need. I’ve been talking about Native American children so far, but it’s for non-Native children as well. Schools want to include Native American literature in their lessons, and parents want to include variations of culture at home. Story Time with Kaluhya has picture books written by Indigenous authors, that are culturally accurate and are great bedtime stories. I also encourage listeners to purchase the book, benefiting authors. Listeners can use my YouTube page for free. My school has reimbursed me for the books I bought, and I borrow books from the library.  

I am an Oneida Language and Culture teacher. Growing up, my father was very active in Native American rights as well as cultural education. Ever since I was little, I attended different conferences and listened to discussions about Native American culture and Native American rights. My father was one of the first teachers at the Indian Community School in Milwaukee. I went to Alverno college, and I got my bachelor’s degree in secondary education and then I got my master’s here in Green Bay in teaching leadership. I also worked as a Language House trainee for the Oneida tribe for several years. Story Time with Kaluhya brings all of those things together with what I learned first-hand from wise and caring culture carriers—people who have the knowledge and are able to pass on our history, culture, and language.

My focus is on children. What impacts one child is going to impact all of them in one way or another. If we can offer children an opportunity to hear our stories, to see the beauty, and to love who they are—if we can connect, then they can truly love themselves and where they came from. This is similar to how I felt when I was in my grandma’s arms.

The first book I did is Giving Thanks by the late Chief Jake Swamp. He shares ways to give thanks to the natural world based in Longhouse culture. The act of giving thanks is a tradition that goes back to the beginning of time.  What’s beautiful about it is that generally Native people have a familial relationship with the natural world, with Mother Earth, with the animals. It explains this connection in a way a child can understand. They can take it in, and then there are beautiful, bright-colored pictures to go along with it. It’s not just a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) thing, because it’s Indigenous across the board. We all have that relationship, and we understand the importance of gratitude.

As we are all dealing with Covid, I just thought, “Kids need to hear this.” Finding things to be thankful for during a time of struggle changes our perspective, alters it in a good way. Chief Jake Swamp’s story reminds us of the many things in the natural world that are still caring for us.  Mother Earth, the sun, animals are all things to be thankful for during this time of struggle.

Kaluhya’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series, we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time. The story was produced by Carol Amour. You can find Story Time with Kaluhya here

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