The American Library Association (ALA) awarded the 2021 Caldecott Medal to Michaela Goade this week for her illustrations in “We Are the Water Protectors,” a picture book written by Carole Lindstrom (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe).

The selection is historic, as it is the first time an Indigenous person has won the award. 

The Caldecott Medal, which is named after 19th century illustrator Randolph Caldecott, is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, which is a division of the ALA, “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children,” the ALA website says. 

“Michaela Goade’s vivid, swirling watercolors capture the sacredness of water and amplify Carole Lindstrom’s passionate call to action and celebration of Indigenous ancestry and community,” the website states. “Rich symbolism and repeating floral patterns appear alongside distinctive colors and atmospheric light to tenderly frame the defiant young protagonist standing up against the real-life horrors of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

“Michaela Goade’s semi-translucent color palette beautifully bathes every page with powerful illustrations,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Annisha Jeffries on the ALA award webpage.

The book, which teaches about the importance of water conservation and Indigenous-led environmental justice, is illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings. It was named one of the best books of 2020 by The Washington Post, the New York Public Library, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. 

“‘We Are Water Protectors’ honors Water Protectors around the world who are courageously fighting for Indigneous rights and environmental justice in the face of greed, corruption and oppression. They are fighting for all of us. This book is an invitation to join and a call to action because we are all connected,” Goade said in a 2020 interview. “‘We Are Water Protectors’ is about kinship to our families, friends, communities, ancestors, future generations, people you’ve never met on the other side of the world – to Mother Earth herself. She loves and provides in so many ways, and she needs our help. We hope We Are Water Protectors inspires you to protect our sacred planet and give back to Mother Earth, to support and join Water Protectors/Land Defenders around the world.”

Goade is from the Raven moiety and Kiks.ádi Clan from Sitka, Alaska and was raised and lives in Juneau. She is inspired by the coastal wilds of Southeast Alaska and aims to capture the magic and culture of the region in her work. 

“I am still struggling to find the right words. More to come but for now, with a VERY full gunalchéesh to [the ALA], the Caldecott committee, my dear Carole Lindstrom & the team Macmillan Children’s School and Library! To EVERYONE who lifted this book up, thank you and I love you,” Goade tweeted Monday in response to the award. 

She has also illustrated “Encounter” by Bruttany Luby and “Raven and the Tide Lady,” a book of traditional Northwest Coast Raven stories that have been adapted for children.

Do you appreciate a Native perspective on the news? 

For the past decade-plus, we’ve covered the important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW), the attacks on tribal sovereignty at the Supreme Court and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools, we have been there to provide a Native perspective and elevate Native voices.

Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Please consider a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10 to help fund us throughout the year. Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.