When we first meet Vaila she is living in an extended family household. Vaila’s dad Gordon and her mum Jessie are divorced. After the separation Jessie and the children, Vaila and her younger brother Charlie, moved to Yell, one of Shetland’s outer islands, to live with Jessie’s parents John and Mary. They live on a croft (a subsistence farmstead) that has been in John’s family for several generations. The house has been renovated and extended but is still the same house that his great-grandfather built. Also living in the house are John’s widowed sister Gracie and Jessie’s single brother Pete.Vaila’s dad Gordon lives in Lerwick, Shetland’s main town, with his new wife Sonia and their two children, 2 year old Bobby and baby May. Gordon’s divorced Mum Lucy also lives in Lerwick and Vaila loves to go and spend time with her as she gets one-to-one attention.Vaila is a bit plump, partly because she comfort ate after her parents separation, but also because Granny Mary is a good cook and is always baking. Vaila has shoulder length curly hair which she sometimes tries to control with a headband.
Sizzie and Vaila were born when artist and illustrator Susan McCallum travelled to the Shetland Islands and met her cousin Grace Randle for the first time. They were immediately drawn together by a bond stronger than the blood tie that connects them. When Susan discovered that Grace enjoys creative writing, she suggested that they should embark on a project to use their combined skills. As Susan travelled around and learnt more about the history and culture, she noticed a lot of similarities to and differences from the islands and her homeland in the Yukon. From this grew the idea of two school-girls, one living in the Yukon and the other living in Shetland, who become penpals. Through their letters and subsequent meetings a deep friendship develops as they learn more about each others’ lives.
When the idea grew in the minds of Susan and Grace they knew it would be necessary to enlist the skills of someone to write the Yukon side of the stories, and for Susan the obvious choice was her friend, renowned Indigenous Story-teller and Writer Louise Profeit LeBlanc.
In addition to following the friendship and adventures of the girls, the reader discovers much about the oral histories and indigenous cultures which are in danger of being lost, and also the dialect and languages which are falling out of use.
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Illustrator Susan McCallum and Louise go a long way back, back to a time when they were both new mothers and wanting the best for their children. Both were drawn together through association with Yukon Elders during the 90’s. Susan illustrating materials for an historic publication written by anthropologist, Julie Cruikshank anthologist entitled “My Stories Are My Wealth” which capture the narrative stories of Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith and Rachel Dawson, while Louise was serving as a young board member for the Council for Yukon Indians and made it her business to interview as many Elders about traditional land use activities to justify land ownership for all Indigenous peoples in the territory. This marked a huge shift as up unit this time in history, stories were only held by the Elders and were seldom written down.
Several years later Louise moved to the capital city of Whitehorse and continued to work with story in a different manner, that of mental health counsellor. It was then that she realized the healing component of traditional stories and Indigenous ways of being with stories.
Native Broadcasting began to develop at this time, and eventually stories began to be heard on the CHON FM radio station and NEDA television broadcasting the old and new forms of stories for the listeners around the territory. It was then, that Susan and Louise worked on developing two videos for broadcast, one depicting an ancient story and the other one a piece fo fiction by Louise-Star Sisters and Lawrence’s Christmas. In her mind they were both in response to Angela’s plea to make stories for TV so this generation of children would not be deprived of the original stories.
In the late 90’s , this same elder, Mrs. Angela Sidney had returned from the Toronto International Storytelling Festival, insisted that we do the same for the Yukon! Thus another door opened widely for tellers of the Circumpolar world to come and share their stories in the Yukon. Many of these stories were recorded and have been safely stored at the Yukon Archives. Louise has always wanted to continue to share these stories with others living in the same northern latitudes as the Yukon, and was delighted to be asked to participate in this multifaceted project with Susan’s cousin from Shetland.Louise has written and continues to write short stories for both adults and children and has published some for Yukon Education curriculum and Northern University Anthologies but her main area of interest and passion is ‘storytelling” an the art of sharing of ancient stories from the different regions & communities, of the Yukon, as well as her own personal stories.
Since childhood Louise always imagined herself in all of the traditional stories! She now knows that these stories have always and continue to inform her imagination and creativity & give her strength. Each of the protagonists in the ancient stories filled her with hope and faith, knowing that northern peoples were always strong and resilient. “It is to them that we owe our way of being as each story holds special teachings for all aspects of life-our spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well being.” We owe it to our ancestors to keep their stories alive for future generations”.
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