The Osage Nation Language Department has published a children’s book, a retelling of the traditional story, “Coyote and the Bear.”
The generational story, retold by ONLD Master Language teacher Dr. Herman “Mogri” Lookout, tells the story of how the bear got his stubby tail. There are many renditions of this classic tale among various tribes in North America, with each teaching a life lesson. Osage artist Joe Don Brave illustrated the book.
“We’re so excited to get these books into the hands of our Osage youth,” said ONLD Braxton Redeagle in a news release. “We greatly appreciate all who contributed to keep this story alive throughout the years. We will continue to look for new ways to revitalize the language that has been passed down to us.”
The first recipients of the book were the children of the Nation’s Wahzhazhe Early Learning Academies, the Nation’s private elementary school Daposka Ahnkodapi and the Osage Nation Child Care department. The ONLD will also distribute copies of “Coyote and the Bear” for free to Osage tribal members during a reading at the Osage Nation Sesquicentennial Celebration on Oct. 22. Artist Joe Don Brave will be present to sign copies. Any leftover copies will be available for purchase at the Osage Nation Visitor’s Center, according to the release.
As for the book’s colorful pages, Brave said he has always wanted to illustrate a children’s story. For “Coyote and the Bear,” Brave created 26 paintings for each page of the book within a month’s time.
“I was so nervous, it was an honor and I’ve never been asked to illustrate a children’s book before,” Brave said. “As an artist I strive to go forward, studying art and color, different levels of art. But when I was asked to do this, it was hard. I didn’t want to get too sophisticated with the art because children will need to capture it. I focused on the colors, making them rich and exciting for the kids.
“My son Preston, who is 6 years old, I would show him my process and if he liked it, I stuck with it. So, he was my guide for each painting I created for the book’s pages.”
Efforts to create “Coyote and the Bear” began in 2021 when the ONLD received approximately $82,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds as part of the ARP Native Language Project. Then-Language Department Director Vann Bighorse and Language Instructor Celena Noear worked together on the project, along with the Houston-based company METECS. Bighorse is now the Secretary of Language, Culture and Education.
In addition to the book, an app will host a virtual version with plans to develop multiple books, according to the release. METECS provided Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear a preview of the virtual option during the development.
“Both the print and virtual options are incredible,” Standing Bear said in the release. “This project gives access to Osages around the globe who want to continue improving their Wahzhazhe language skills.”
“Coyote and the Bear” is just the latest in a series of projects the ONLD and the WahZhaZhe Cultural Center have developed using ARP funds. On the Nation’s Culture website, visitors can peruse the Osage Language dictionary, download Osage language apps, listen to the Wahzhazhe Podcast, install the Osage font keyboard, view historical information on the Osage, or watch the Osage Cultural Connection Series, which is a series of videos on Osage cooking, dress and crafts.
Users will be able to download the book’s app by searching “Osage Books” on your app store beginning Oct. 22. To find out more about the Osage Language Department and find language education resources, please visit www.osageculture.com.