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Family shares series of children's books promoting Potawatomi stories

Forest County Potawatomi Museum

Forest County Potawatomi Community’s Lee White published a series of children’s books before his passing in 2020.

Now, his family carries on his legacy by promoting his work.

“There's always that little girl or little boy that are like, ‘oh, I wish somebody wrote a book for me.’ Well, here's that book.”

That’s Shanon White, Lee White’s daughter.

She’s talking about the series of three children’s books written by her father in Potawatomi and English.

Since his passing in 2020, his family has continued to share his books.

Shanon said that her dad wanted to create a merchandise line, complete with t-shirts, stuffed animals, stickers, and bookmarks, to go along with his series.

“And our plan was to go all over Indian Country and kind of share these with Indian Country,” she said.

White worked on the series for about five years, even throughout his incarceration.

“He was really excited and said, he said, ‘I'm gonna write these books,’ he goes,” she remembered.

And he did.

The dedications of each book are special for Shanon, especially the one in Shagok: “Where He Got His Stripes.”

The book is about how the Great Spirit in Potawatomi, Mashomis, blessed the skunk, or Shagok, with stripes to punish him for stealing vegetables from the other animals in the wood’s garden.

“This one is dedicated to his daughter, Tess. My youngest sister, Tess White,” said Shanon.

In 2016, when she was 25 years old and 10 weeks pregnant, Tess White was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.

Indigenous women are the targets of disproportionate violence across the country.

In 2021,the CDC reported that homicide rates of Indigenous people were four times higher than the homicide rates for non-Hispanic white people.

White’s family encouraged him to pour his energy and grief into his stories.

“It was important for him as a father, as you know, her being his daughter, that he wanted to do something in memory of her. That's his daughter! I always tell them, well, you have these books, we're just gonna get these books out, and we're gonna do the best that we can to share the stories, and know that we're still here, ” she said.

White dedicated Wabozo to “all the children.”

Wabozo is about how the Great Spirit blessed the rabbit with long feet and ears to remind him to be patient and wait his turn.

He firmly believed in continuing the positive cycle of stories in education and his culture.

“He told me the stories in the old way, the old folk way,” she said.

White wanted to get children reading and invested in their education.

“He has such a big heart, big, wonderful heart, lots of culture and very protective. And teaching and sharing, that was his biggest thing,” explained Shanon.

The family grieves his death.

“But it also is bittersweet because it's like what, what else could he have done in another year, if we would have had him just another year?”

Shanon is considering continuing her father’s series in the future.

“I had a story in my mind and in my heart kind of what I wanted to share. But, you know, that's down the road,” she said.

For now, the series of children’s books are for sale through the Forest County Potawatomi Museum.

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Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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