Native Voices: Tashia Hart on Gidjie and the Wolves

By Kim Rogers

Tashia Hart is an award-winning Anishinaabe author and illustrator. Her debut middle grade novel, Gidjie and the Wolves (Not Too Far Removed Press, 2020) is a 2020 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal Winner. Congrats, Tashia and welcome to Cynsations!

From the promotional copy: “Gidjie, an Anishinaabe girl who lives near the shore of Lake Superior. Her best friend is an opossum. Her grandmother is an expert baker, traveling animal medic, and part-time bird. When Gidjie receives an invitation from a dancing fox to set off on an adventure and find the whereabouts of the fox’s kits, she soon realizes it’s not just the kits that are in danger; her aunt is also missing. Can Gidjie work together with new friends to bring everyone home safe?”

Have you always wanted to write? What inspired you to write for young readers?

I fell in love with writing at the age of eight, after struggling with a school assignment to write a short story. With the help of my mother, I realized I could write about things I loved and things I was moved to explore. Thanks to Mom, I turned in an eight-page, co-authored masterpiece inspired by some Bigfoot tracks we found in the woods behind our house in rural Minnesota.

I kept up with the writing, filling many notebooks through my adolescence. As an adult looking back, I know for a fact that writing, poetry especially, helped save my life as a teenager. I left a lot of notebooks behind, in many places, over the years. I remember starting one notebook at the age of 11 or 12, with the distinct goal of writing to my adult self about how kids think and how to understand kids and remember what it’s like to be and feel like a kid, with all of the miscommunication, awkwardness, and inner turmoil. I lost that notebook somewhere, but I remember how I felt when I wrote it.

I love thinking about how I felt back then—desiring to be understood and taken seriously and sitting down as an adult and intentionally writing stories in response to that call for help.

“Family,” an illustrated feeling of home and belonging, from Gidjie and the Wolves by Tashia Hart, used with permission.

What was your inspiration for writing Gidjie and the Wolves?

Illustration by Tashia Hart, used with permission.

In the winter of 2017, I knew there was a story that wanted to come out but I didn’t know what it was. I put my asemaa (tobacco) down and asked for guidance. Within about a week, I started having vivid dreams of animals, something I hadn’t experienced before.

The first dream was about being with wolves in a deep space under the crust of the Earth, who after hearing me cry that I wanted to go back to the surface, helped me climb out back into the daylight, and was the inspiration for some of the themes and characters in the book.

In the chapter titled “The Miigwech’n Kitchen,” Gidjie has an interaction with a dancing fox, which was taken in its entirety from another dream.

The dreams came regularly for about a year and I kept track of them in a notebook, until one day in the winter of 2018, and I knew it was time to write. I had been given some of the characters and themes for the book, but I had yet to discover the story. That’s what I was tasked to do.

It was about halfway through the writing that I realized the story was meant for kids. I know that must sound weird, but that was the process for this particular story. When I realized that, I was so happy, because that meant everyone could read about Gidjie and her adventures.

Children love animals, and my own awe and love for animals has only grown with me, so it made me very happy to think about connecting with children through stories about animals. We have many stories about animals in our Anishinaabe Oral Tradition, and I have always been inspired by local community storytellers and also writers like Basil Johnston, who told many of these stories in his books.

What have you loved about your publishing journey? What challenges have you faced?

I submitted Gidjie and the Wolves to a lot of what I thought were possible ‘good-fit’ agents and publishers. I read all of the submission guidelines and looked at the authors they represented and the books they published. I submitted and waited to hear back for months, and they began trickling in, the ‘no’s’, that is. Some were non-personalized rejections, others polite personalized rejections from agents who had requested the full manuscript. All of them said basically the same thing—that Gidjie wasn’t relatable enough to sell.

I had also been in touch with a small Native-run press that said they wanted to publish Gidjie. But over the course of a year, with a few conversations back and forth, and nothing actually being done with the project, I realized they had so much work to do getting out Own Voices author projects that it might be a long time before they could actually get to Gidjie.

Cats make great critique partners.

That’s when I had an epiphany. I would start a small press with the goal of getting our stories out into the world and into communities that desperately need and are asking to see more of their likenesses in literature. The goal for the press wouldn’t be about what would mass-market sell, it would be about producing content that is needed. I started the press by publishing Gidjie, and learned everything about the process.

My goal is to eventually work with other Indigenous authors and illustrators who might be having a hard time finding a home for their work. I have loved learning throughout the process of publishing Gidjie.

Along with writing the second book in the Intermediaries series, Gidjie and the Island of Moon, I am creating a comic book series and my plan is to first reach out again to agents and publishers when I have something to show. I figure that short of working in a big publishing house, being a traditionally published author whether through an indie or major publisher would certainly teach me more about the business. I know I have so much to learn, which is very exciting for me!

What do you hope readers will gain by reading Gidjie and the Wolves?

I want readers to feel comfort in my book like Jim Northrup‘s Walking the Rez Road (Voyageur Press, 1993/Fulcrum Publishing 2013) did for me after my parents divorced when I was nine and found myself far away from any Anishinaabeg. I want readers to have a feeling of home. I want kids who normally don’t get much of an opportunity to see themselves in literature to feel like they belong to this book.

Cynsational Notes

Tashia Hart is a member of the Red Lake Band of Anishinaabe and currently resides on the Leech Lake reservation in northern Minnesota. Her Anishinaabe name is Diindiisikwe, Blue Jay Woman. She is the author of the novella Girl Unreserved and author/illustrator of the middle grade novel Gidjie and the Wolves (Intermediaries, volume 1). She is the illustrator of the Minnesota Native American Lives Series (Minnesota Humanities Center & Wise Ink Press, 2020).

She is a cook, Indigenous foods advocate, and member of the I-Collective, an autonomous group of Indigenous chefs, activists, seed keepers, and artists. She writes essays and recipes about wild foods for various organizations and tribal programs.

When she’s not writing, she spends her time crafting birch bark and beaded jewelry, a creative journey that started 32 years ago at the age of five. She believes Indigenous people should control how their stories and likenesses are portrayed, and so has recently started the independent publishing company (Not) Too Far Removed Press. The mission of the press is to get stories and worldviews typically not published by big publishers, out to the people they represent.

She is a member of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Kim Rogers covers children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations.

Kim writes books, short stories, and poems across all children’s literature age groups. She is a contributor to Ancestor Approved coming February, 2021 with HarperCollins/Heartdrum. Her debut picture book, Just Like Grandma, illustrated by Julie Flett, is slated for winter 2023 with HarperCollins/Heartdrum.  Her work has also been published in Highlights for Children, Guideposts Sweet 16, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and many other publications.

Kim is an enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes  and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Much of her current writing highlights her Wichita heritage.

She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, two boys, and one ornery, but very cute Chiweenie dog named Lucky.

She is represented by Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency.