Mohawk warrior story had a
huge impact on singer-songwriter as a boy
As a child, the Band's Robbie Robertson was spellbound when
he first heard an elder recount the tale of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker,
and the experience changed his life.
Robertson, just nine or ten at the time, realized then he wanted
to possess the same storytelling power wielded by that elder in
a smokey longhouse at the Six Nations Reserve, southeast of Brantford,
Robertson's new book Hiawatha and the Peacemaker was illustrated
by Caldecottwinning artist David Shannon. (courtesy
of David Shannon)
And though he's received countless honours as a singer, songwriter
and musician over the years, Robertson jumped at the opportunity
to share the tale anew when a publisher asked if he had a story,
with personal meaning, aimed at young readers.
The result is Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, a picture book about
the Mohawk warrior who helped convince warring Iroquois nations
to lay their weapons down. It features vibrant illustrations by
artist David Shannon as well as a CD of new music the project inspired
Robertson to create.
Convincing tale and performance
Robertson's collaboration with the Caldecott Award-winning Shannon
almost didn't happen. Though told the top illustrator had his own
books to work on and was also busy with Disney, he asked to meet
anyway, if only to get recommendations for another illustrator.
Four thousand copies of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker will be
distributed free to First Nations schools and libraries across the
country, courtesy of Chapters Indigo.
When the two met, Robertson recounted the tale of how Hiawatha
and his spiritual guide, the Peacemaker, managed to convince the
five Iroquois nations to move beyond war and fighting to unite.
"He was like 'Whoa, I didn't know anything about that,'
" Robertson told CBC News, recalling Shannon's reaction.
"I played him the song I'd written for the book and he
said, 'I was coming over here to tell you I can't do it, but now
that I've heard this song and this story, I'm in.' "
Robbie Robertson has written his second book for young readers,
titled Hiawatha and the Peacemaker. (photo by Danny Moloshok/Reuters)
Robertson has a bit of experience writing for young readers
already. In 2013, he published the book-and-CD project Legends,
Icons and Rebels: Music That Changed the World, which introduces
children to the Beatles, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell and other groundbreaking
recording artists and tells the stories behind their influential
With Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, he says he hopes the book
will have the same profound effect on children today that hearing
the legend had on him as a kid.
"It's quite a gift for me to be able to pass that story
on and share that in the tradition of the Indian oral history,"
"I always appreciated the idea that when you're at a certain
age, that someone turns you on to something that could actually
have an effect on your life.... And so, that circle the great
circle goes round and round."
a busy schedule, Shannon joined the collaboration after hearing
Robertson recount the tale and perform a new song inspired
by it. (courtesy of David Shannon)