We Dream Medicine Dreams
We Dream Medicine Dreams
Grampa, you said, “There will be times in your life when you are alone.
Try not to be afraid. Remember your family has prepared you well. Even
when we are not there, our love is always around you. All you have to do is
look at the world to be reminded of our love. The world loves you as we love
you, and wants to see you thrive. Enjoy your own company as you discover it.”
We Dream Medicine Dreams, with words and images by bioethicist and doctoral student Lisa Boivin, a member of the Deninu Kue First Nation, is a memorable, deeply moving and ultimately uplifting picture book that addresses head-on the ever-profound themes of death, love, loss, family bonds, hope, healing, courage and the natural world. Boivin calls this book—and rightfully so—a “sacred ceremony.”
The intergenerational story begins with a little girl recalling napping and dreaming in a hammock with her beloved grandfather who taught her the importance of medicine dreams. “There is medicine in our dreams,” he says. “This medicine teaches us to be skillful in the world and teaches us how to face the challenges in our lives. These skills are learned from animals.”
In this touching ode to her grandfather, the little girl remembers the first medicine dream, which focuses on Bear, who teaches us how to learn from our mothers: how to be alone, use one’s body, run fast, climb trees, fish, hunt and hear the quietest of sounds. “He is cradled by the love of the land when he sleeps, and he is encouraged by the land as he learns how to live a good life,” writes Boivin. Next, she learns about Hawk, who takes a wider view and sees everything, encouraging us to open up ourselves to receiving new gifts and remembering the ones we’ve already received. Caribou teaches us about respect and generosity, keeping the land clean and being good family members. “Make your world a place where people will always want to return,” pens Boivin. Finally, the little girl shares her favourite medicine dream teachings about Wolf and how her grandfather’s mother called him “Little Wolf” when she was teaching him. Wolf teaches us to live happily in our family and to believe in ourselves. “When we think of Wolf, we understand him as a fierce hunter. What we don’t see is that when Wolf if learning to hunt, he fails more than he succeeds, but he believes in himself and keeps trying. He knows he must watch older members of his family to be successful. He knows he will learn from them as he grows into an adult.”
When her grandfather becomes ill, slips into a coma and is on a ventilator, his enlightening lessons become an anchor for the little girl as she learns to say goodbye. One day she visits him in the hospital, and she naps with him a final time. “The plastic tubes in your arms and the ventilator that covers half your face look strange. I crawl into bed with you anyway. I close my eyes and dream a medicine dream for us.”
Although feeling alone, now that “Grampa” has passed, the astute-beyond-her-years little girl uses these invaluable ancestral teachings as a way to navigate life and find her place. Like Bear, she’s a good listener and loves to learn. Like Hawk, she remembers the many gifts her grandfather gave her, remaining open to receiving new ones. Like Caribou, she is respectful and generous with her time, helping others when they need it. And like Wolf, she keeps trying, speaks carefully and with kindness and learns from her family.
After following all of his sage instructions, the little girl finally finds her beloved grandfather in her dreams. Although he is now Little Wolf and looks different physically, he is still Grampa, happy to see her and encouraging her to forever learn and grow. “You remind me to be happy in the world around me.”
Boivin’s vibrant, daring and skillfully rendered digital images that resemble cut-paper/collage art bring boundless depth, energy, texture and fluidity of movement to the wise and poignant words of this compelling narrative, creating a rich, emotional and dream-like world. And through a bold combination of single- and double-page spreads—all featuring striking colours and sometimes-haunting images—Boivin has created a heartbreakingly real and relatable story, an ethereal tale full of stunning visuals that expertly complement the evocative prose, revealing the unquestionable connection of humans to animals and the natural world on Earth and beyond.
Although We Dream Medicine Dreams covers the weighty topics of familial loss, death and grief, Boivin’s stirring, age-appropriate language, innate sensitivities and gentle exploratory nature, coupled with her breathtaking illustrations, offer readers the opportunity to experience this health-care educator and interdisciplinary artist’s take on humanizing clinical medicine through Indigenous cultures and worldviews, and image-based storytelling. An outstanding must-read and a powerful resource for parents, teachers and librarians, this beautiful book is an ideal way to introduce young readers to the infinite knowledge of our Indigenous ancestors, undoubtedly igniting much purposeful discussion and thought.
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Ontario-based freelance editor, proofreader and writer, and her company is Planet Word. She’s a big believer in the power of dreams.