Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence; illustrated by François Thisdale

wanisin (she is lost)

Missing Nimâma is a difficult book to read without weeping, and a difficult book to write about for much the same reason: it is the story of Kateri Cardinal, a Cree girl whose mother is lost – one of the 1181+ Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing since 1980.

Kateri is raised by her loving grandmother.

“Tân’te nimâmâ?” I ask  nôhkom.

“Where is my mother?”

“Lost”, she says. Lost?

“If she’s lost, let’s just go find her.”

Nôhkom smooths my hair, soft and dark

as a raven’s wing.

Parts it. Braids it. Ties it with a red ribbon.

My mother’s favourite colour.

“She’s one of the lost women, kamâmakos.”

She calls me “little butterfly.” Just like nimâmâ did.

Before she got lost.

We see Kateri grow through the big landmarks of her life: her first day of school, learning to make fry bread, falling in love… and the landmarks of her motherless life: learning that her mother is lost, trying to remember Aiyana’s smile for a Mother’s Day card; fear of the dark.

Missing Nimâmâ is equally the story of Aiyana, who watches her daughter grow without her.

My heart aches when I see them like this.

There’s no room for me

in that embrace. I wasn’t the one

who found the perfect dress for her first dance.

But I have to smile.

You are so wonderful with her, mother.

never doubt that you have done

your very best

to raise an amazing woman.

For both of us.

Both of them struggle with grief and with love inseparable from loss.

The subject alone would make this an important book: the Stolen Sisters and the lack of police and governmental action on the ongoing discrimination and violence toward Indigenous women is one of Canada’s greatest shames. The characterization of Kateri and Aiyana is nuanced and open: much as a picturebook about this topic was needed, Missing Nimâmâ is richer than an issue book; it belongs in the classroom (History; Contemporary Issues;  Justice/Criminology; Contemporary Literature; Creative Writing) for its technique, particularly the closing pages, as well as for its content.

Highly recommended.

Have tissue handy.