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Nokum is my Teacher

By David Bouchard~Paintings by Allen Sapp

Singing and Drumming by Northern Cree





Nokum is My Teacher, an award wininng picture book by Cree author David Bouchard, is an interesting and relevant read. Not only does this story resonate with First Nations students, but it also gives students from other cultures a unique perspective on First Nations life. Exploring the differences between traditional and non-traditional ways of learning, Nokum is My Teacher offers a thoughtful look into issues of identity, learning and knowledge that can be applied to students anywhere in the world.



Table of Contents:



Textual Connections:


David Bouchard


Bilingual Cree and English audio recording of Nookum is my Teacher.


Included with Nokum is my Teacher is an audio CD containing recordings of the story in both English and the Cree language. Also included is accompaniment  by the Northern Cree Singers, who provide singing and drumming to the recordings.


For students struggling with pronunciation, pacing and oral fluency, the oral recording (in English) can assist with improving literacy skills in these areas. Additionally, coupling the audio recording to the actual physical text gives students the chance to experience proper modeling of language, as well as a chance for diverse learners to learn in a multimodal environment (visually as well as auditorially). Lastly, allowing students to hear an individual of First Nations descent repeat the story (in this case David Bouchard himself), highlights the uniqueness of the cultural differences in oral storytelling between English and Cree. Attention can be focused upon the pacing, intonation and other elements that differ from ‘traditional’ storytelling students are likely more familiar with. Click here for a sample of the audio book in English.


The Cree version of the story will allow students to appreciate the similarities and differences between Cree and languages they are familiar with. Importance can be placed on the drums and singing that accompany the narrative and serve as a jumping off point for teachers to further introduce other aspects of Cree culture to their students. The poetic nature of the tale when told in Cree, along with the form and style of presentation also provide further points of research interest and points of comparison to other languages (such as English, or even French).


David Bouchard  Offical Website--www.davidbouchard.com


Opening Page: www.davidbouchard.com


David Bouchard’s official website gives students and teachers the opportunity to learn valuable information, both personal and professional, about the author. As learning is a major theme throughout the story, both in traditional and non-traditional settings, Bouchard’s experiences as a writer serve to illustrate to students that learning can co-exist peacefully between these two environments. For First Nations students, learning about the author can give them motivation and self confidence as Bouchard is an excellent role model for First Nations students to look up to.


The website also includes sections on Bouchard’s upcoming books and even provides brief snippets of text, audio or video to introduce the user to his current writing project. Perhaps even more valuable is the fact that he also includes a brief rationale for why he is writing about a certain subject. For students, this is a unique perspective into the mind and thoughts of a successful writer, and can give them valuable information about the writing process. For older students (grade six or seven) there are also lessons to be learned about the publishing process as well.


Lastly, the author also provides a virtual library of the texts he has published, where users can browse through the titles and examine them in more depth if they choose. For students, this provides the option of choosing another story that has a common theme to the one that they have just read. For instance, if a student, after reading Nokum is my Teacher, strongly identifies with the theme of identity,  they may decide to read the author’s first book, White Tails Don’t Live in the city because of the common thematic connection between them. The availability of the virtual library opens up many opportunities for First Nations themes to be exploring in more depth.



 Northern Cree Singers offical website--http://www.northerncree.com/


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This website gives a brief introduction of the Northern Cree singers, who provide the drumming and singing on the audiobook version of Nookum is my Teacher.  A brief biography of the group is given, along with photos and links. The main page includes two videos of a round dance and a pow-wow, and serves as an excellent example of these traditional Cree practices for students. Perhaps its most overt educational feature is the Discussion Forum that is featured on the site. Here, students can ask the group members any questions that they may have concerning drumming, singing, and other relevant topics. The information that students can learn firsthand from the Northern Cree members can then be used to explore further research into these areas, or guide students in their own discovery of singing and drumming.




Language and Song

Language and Song are an integral part of Cree culture. Along with drumming, singing forms the core of most Cree music. Songs are owned by the person who creates them, and can represent many different things, including a clan, individual, group or even a ceremony. Additionally, there is more than one dialectic of the Cree language, and different tribes within the Cree culture can identify with one or more of these dialects. The three main subsets of the Cree culture include the Plains Cree, Woodland Cree and the Swampy Cree, each with a unique from of language and hence, songs.


In this story the protaginist puts great emphasis on drumming and singing. When he points out to his Nokum that "through drumming and through singing we have learned this way so long", he is professing his love for the traditional Cree way of learning through listening instead of having to "need books to learn". One way learning is passed down is through song in the Cree culture, and is very important for preserving traditions, information and learning to younger generations. In this instance, song and language seem to represent a way of learning that is not only important to the young child, but the prefered form. Indeed, the fact that there are different ways of learning, including through songs, is an important aspect of Cree culture that should be recognized.


Such sites as  The Gift of Language and Culture offer information and teaching resources on Cree language and song that can be used in conjunction with this story to help explain the importance of song to students. Additionally, sites such as Our Languages gives background information and specifics about the different subgroups present within the Cree culture so students will not think the Cree culture is one big homogenous group. The Cree Dictionary offers an online resource for translating words into the Cree language, as well as offering help with pronounciation and would be a valuable resource for students to use if they would like to see how some Cree words from the story would translate literally into English.  Lastly, the East Cree Language Web offers teaching resources and lesson plans on teaching Cree language, stories and song that could continue the learning process for students by perhaps getting them to create their own song about learning.


Cree Alphabet (one type)




Cree hand drum



Drums are an integral part of Cree storytelling. They are also the primary instrument used in Cree song. According to Native Drums the hand held drum is the most common drum used by the Cree people. Though it can be used individually, it is more often utilized in a group setting, such as a pow-wow. However, there are drums that are made specifically for the pow-wow as well. Drums are generally constructed from an animal hide being stretched over a wood frame. Click here for a more in depth description of the drum making process.


In the Cree culture, drums are intertwined with language and song, as well as with dance. Each of these separate elements work together to create a multi-faceted and diverse cultural environment. Drum music can be used to describe many aspects of daily life, as well as special occasions and events.


As songs, storytelling and dance are heavily interrelated in Nokum is my Teacher, with the protagonist repeatedly noting how drumming and singing are the best way that he learns, it would be advisable to tell students one or more origin stories about how the Pow-Wow drum came into existence. Additionally, visiting websites such as www.creeculture.ca for background information on the drum making process would give students an understanding of how much work and effort goes into the creation of a drum. They would also gain valuable insight into how stories can be created during this process as well. Personal stories from elders can also be of value to students, as they can receive information from a first hand narrative perspective on the importance of the drums.


Elder playing a hand drum




Cree Tipi


The tipi was used by Plains Indians (in this case the Plains Cree) as shelter. Tipi’s were generally made out of animal skin (which was used as the outer covering) and supported by wooden poles arranged in a circle and converging at the top of the tipi. There would be a hole at the top of the tipi to let out heat and smoke from fires that could be lit within. There would also be a fabric door to gain access, which would be cut out from the animal hide surrounding the frame. Tipi’s are easily to take apart and put together, and hence suit a nomadic way of life. Click here for a more accurate description of a tipi.

As one of Allen Sapp’s full page illustrations in the story depicts a tipi and the lifestyle associated with it, students should know about its importance in everyday life. When compared to a house or “white person’s” way of doing things, as the young boy in the story notes, there are major points of comparison that need to be addressed for students to gain a full understanding of the role the tipi plays in Plains Cree culture.

To facilitate such learning, visiting sites that describe how to make a tipi would be useful for students and teachers. They could get first hand experience on exactly what constructing such a structure entails by building one as a class project. Alternatively, they could also construct a tipi online. Click here to virtually construct a tipi.


Plains Cree Tipi

Graphic Organizer:


This organizer is a concept map and reflects my own personal understanding of the story. Hopefully you can follow the flow of ideas and glean some useful information from it.


CMap Concept Map: Nookum is my Teacher

Critical Culture Concepts:




Just like Nokum is important to the young boy in this story, Elders are very important in First Nations culture. Not only are they important in the Cree culture, but they are also important to many other tribes, and First Nations people as a whole. Elders are repositories of history in First Nations culture and act as a archive of stories, historical events and cultural knowledge. They are also considered to be very wise, and a source of advice for a community. Many in the community look at Elders as being a mediating force in the community. Generally they are viewed as a source of stability and rationality when a community is confronted by problems or dilemmas. They are revered in the community and treated with great respect. Any major decision that affects a community is generally referred to the Elders of a community for discussion. Click here for more information on Elders in Saskatchewan, as well as on the following link for profiles about some prominent elders in First Nations communities. Lastly, a list of resources concerning First Nations Elders and resources that can be used in teaching about them can be found by clicking here.




Identity is a major issue for the young boy in Nokum Is My Teacher. It is also a major source of discussion and self-discovery for many First Nations youth as well. As there is a constant battle between traditional ways of life and more urban ways of living, many First Nations youth have trouble balancing these two contrasting views. Often, First Nations youth identity strongly with only way of living and reject the other. Denial, which the young boy feels about the urban lifestyle he is being asked to embrace, is also a problem that faces many First Nations youth today.

Teaching Considerations:


Pre reading strategy--Predicting:


Holding the book up for students to see, display the cover. Use guiding questions such as: What do you see? Who do you think the people are doing? Why? Why are they wearing that type of clothing? What do you think the title represents? Students would the write a brief paragraph about what they think the story would be about. When finished, students could share them aloud with the class, or tell a partner sitting beside them.


During reading strategy--Quick Write/Journal Response:


Have students write (using the writing style of the author) a page in the story describing another reason why the young boy would not want to go to school. Additionally, students could gather together all the pages they have created and publish it as a book that they have created.


After reading strategy--Reflective Journal:


Have students write a one page journal response from the point of view of the young boy after his conversation with his Nokum and one week into the new school year. Students would consider in their response the young boy’s conversation with his Nokum, as well as the experiences he has gathered from attending public school for one week. Students could read their responses out loud, or alternatively create a podcast recording that could be shared online with students from around the country.




Bouchard, David. My Teacher is Nokum. Red Deer Press, 2006.


Cree. (2008, July 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:53, July 14, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cree&oldid=224833728



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