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Drawing on Indigenous superpowers

Drawing on Indigenous superpowers

Michaela Goade (Studio Art, ’14) leads the charge in children’s literature to better represent the multitude of Indigenous experiences.

Growing up as a citizen of the Tlingit Nation, Michaela Goade didn’t see many illustrated books representing Native youth. So, she created her own. She filled sketchbook after sketchbook with doodles and stories drawn from her experiences in the rainforest and on the beaches of Lingít Aaní, her tribe’s traditional land in Southeast Alaska.

Now a professional illustrator, Goade (Studio Art, ’14) is part of a shift in children’s literature to better represent the multitude of Indigenous experiences.

The Berry Song illustrated book cover of of an older woman and a child peering through green leaves with berries. Text at the bottom reads Caldecott medalist Michaela Goade.

“I hope Native people feel seen and valued when they read my books,” she said. “I especially hope Native children feel that their Indigenous identities are superpowers.”

In Carole Lindstrom’s #1 New York Times Bestselling picture book We Are Water Protectors, an Ojibwe girl recalls teachings from her grandmother and rallies her people against an oil pipeline that threatens to destroy their land and poison their water. Goade illustrated the book’s natural landscapes and animals using watercolor, bringing to life a menacing black snake (the pipeline) amidst the blue-hued beauty of fish and waterbirds. The story evokes the strength—superpowers—of Indigenous youth and calls readers to environmental stewardship.

"I hope Native people feel seen and valued when they read my books. I especially hope Native children feel that their Indigenous identities are superpowers."

“While there is an incredible amount of diversity across Indigenous nations, I think there are often shared values: a love for the land, land as essential to identity, and ideas of reciprocity and balance,” she said. “While that will always be filtered through my own lens, I hope the respect, love, and reverence for the land that Indigenous peoples have comes across in my work.”

Goade’s practiced ease in her craft is buoyed by her time as an art student at Fort Lewis College. In school, she immersed herself in traditional and digital art, finding mentors in professors like Paul Booth, whom she said helped her find her way.

Her studies moved between digital illustration, pattern making, graphic design, and traditional illustration. In addition to art classes, she took marketing and business courses. Through independent study with Booth and other faculty, Goade honed her various skills into a palette of creative superpowers.

Right out of college, she worked as a graphic designer and art director for an advertising agency in Anchorage, Alaska. She craved creative autonomy, so she made the leap into freelance graphic design and illustration work. A local opportunity to work with her tribe came up when the Sealaska Heritage Institute posted a call for book illustrators for their Baby Raven Reads initiative. Goade illustrated her first few books through the program, which caught the eye of a major trade publisher who invited Goade to illustrate Encounter and, eventually, We Are Water Protectors. In 2021, she was awarded the Caldecott Medal for We Are Water Protectors, the first Indigenous person and woman of color to receive the honor.

Michaela works in her studio at her desk, facing a window with green vegetation outside.

“Picture books tell our children who is important in our world, so having inclusive representation and accurate depictions in books is so important.” Goade recently authored, illustrated, and published Berry Song, an homage to the sea and rainforest of her youth and a celebration of the great wisdom of elders.

To learn more about Goade’s publications and prints, visit michaelagoade.com.

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