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Author Patricia Jamie Lee talks about ‘Washaka - The Bear Dreamer’ at BMS

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Cass Lake author Patricia Jamie Lee discusses her book "Washaka: The Bear Dreamer" with sixth-grade students on Thursday at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Sixth-grader Gwenyth Galloway raises her hand to ask author Patricia Jamie Lee about her book "Washaka: The Bear Dreamer" during a discussion Thursday at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
Sixth-grade students at Bemidji Middle School discussed the book "Washaka: The Bear Dreamer" in class on Thursday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

BEMIDJI—When Little Chief finds a white boy tied to a tree, he knows it's his "Mato Ska"—the injured white bear from his dreams that Little Chief's grandfather said to watch for.

That's the main plot hook in "Washaka - The Bear Dreamer," a book by Patricia Jamie Lee, an author and artist who visited Bemidji Middle School on Thursday to talk about her work with sixth-graders. She did a back-and-forth Q&A about the book with Delta Pod students for about an hour, then spent another hour helping them with their own writing.

How long did it take Lee to write the book? A first draft took about three months, she told the sixth-graders, but she rewrote it into a first-person narrative over a few more months—about a year in all.

Asked Lee: was one character right to take another away from their family? One student said he wasn't bothered because the character's family was abusive. Another said it wasn't nice because the character was removed from his mother and brother.

Lee, who bounced between Cass Lake and Babbitt, Minn., in her youth and claims no American Indian ancestry, wrote the book after Leon Hale, a Lakota man from Cheyenne River, approached her in a coffee shop.

"I felt like I needed to go talk to her," Hale recalled in a 2005 video Lee showed to the middle schoolers. "She writes books, she said. And that's when I told her I had this story I would like to tell and I want somebody to write. And she smiled at me and I knew then that it was her that I was supposed to meet."

The book is almost entirely based on a vivid recurring dream Hale had, which makes Little Chief's story a sort-of "dream within a dream," Lee said. She remembered how Hale would close his eyes and slowly turn in a rotating chair as he described his dream to her.

Lee asked if any of the students have had a dream that seemed real to them—almost all raised their hands.

Have any had dreams that came true? About half raised their hands.

"In this culture, the early culture of the Lakota people, these dreams were really important," Lee said. "I think sometimes we don't pay enough attention to dreams now and what they might mean for us, what we're supposed to learn from them, who we're supposed to talk to."

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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