Foothills author inspired by Blackfoot’s rich history

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 04, 2013 09:58 am

Foothills author Dawn Sprung shows her recently-published book, The Legend of the Buffalo Stone, near her home west of Okotoks.
Foothills author Dawn Sprung shows her recently-published book, The Legend of the Buffalo Stone, near her home west of Okotoks.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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An Okotoks author wants to bring a Blackfoot legend to life in classrooms across Alberta following the publication of her newest book.

Dawn Sprung’s children’s book The Legend of the Buffalo Stone tells the tale of a 12-year-old girl who saves her community from starvation during a harsh winter after having a dream that leads her on a journey in search of a magical stone to bring the buffalo back to her people. Blackfoot artist Charles Bullshields of Standoff drew illustrations for the book.

Sprung said it was while researching her first book C is for Chinook in 2004 that she came up with the idea to write The Legend of the Buffalo Stone.

“All that research I did got me fascinated with the history of the Blackfoot people,” she said. “That’s where it initiated, from the idea of taking a legend and turning it into a children’s story.”

Sprung spent a year researching the legend of the buffalo stone in libraries, museums and by talking with First Nations people. It was through these resources she learned how indigenous people lived hundreds of years ago.

“It’s accurate in describing the ways they hunted the buffalo, the clothing they wore and their lifestyle,” she said of her book. “There are lots of things you wouldn’t find written in history and you have to talk to the First Nations people to figure out those things. It’s important to me that I’m being accurate.”

Sprung used some creativity to spin the legend into a story that would appeal to children.

“It’s telling an exciting story to children, but while it does it it’s teaching them about the Blackfoot during the time before horses,” she said. “Studying the Blackfoot history I was so blown away by the incredible life they had. Just the way they hunted and survived and how strong they were and their values.”

Sprung approached teacher Mark Race at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, where her children attend school, about writing a teachers’ guide with games and activities relating to the book and he agreed.

“The book as I view it is a really good starting point for some important conversations about concepts connected to the curriculum,” said Race. “It’s like the story is the tip of the iceberg and there is so much more depth and layers to the concept of the story.”

Race developed a set of inquiry-based activities and lessons drawing important concepts from the book.

He said it presents discussion points that delve deeply into the Blackfoot culture, the perspective of the life of a child in indigenous cultures, symbolism and Alberta fossil history.

Race said one assignment has students taking on the role of experts like historians, paleontologists and researchers to learn more about the Blackfoot people and the ammonite (buffalo stone) described in the book.

“It’s more inquiry-based and less repeating facts that they may have heard,” he said. “The book introduced these big ideas so it’s just there for the taking to get these kids thinking with some depth. I’m excited for the book to be published so I can do some of these with my own students.”

The teachers’ resource also includes games that were played by indigenous people hundreds of years ago. Race said he uses C is for Chinook as a resource for the Grade 4 First Nations unit.

“We have multiple copies in the school and use it for research and referencing,” he said. “She’s a phenomenal resource.”

Having an author in the school is a great experience for students as well, said Race.

“The real treat above and beyond that is the kids get to meet an author and say, ‘This is something I could maybe do,’” he said. “The idea of a book author isn’t this abstract thing that famous people do. Here’s an author among us. It’s someone they know and someone whose daughter they know.”

Being a natural storyteller, it’s not surprising Sprung penned two children’s books.

“When I drive my kids to school every day I tell them a story,” she said. “I always had a knack for right off the cuff telling a story.”

To reach children on a more personal basis, Sprung told the legend from a child’s point of view. In the actual legend, the character is older, she said.

“I changed that and made it a little girl so it was something that children could relate to,” she said. “It’s just making them child friendly to take them into the classroom.”

Sprung said she is so drawn to Blackfoot legends she plans to write more. Perhaps the next one will be about the Okotoks erratic.

“There are so many great legends,” she said.


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