Thursday, September 10, 2020

Review of “We Are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom

“We Are Water Protectors” written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade is a new picture book you need to look out for.

“We Are Water Protectors” is a book full of vibrant, eye catching images and powerful prose to match.

The author, Carole Lindstrom writes the books from passion and experience. She identifies as Anishinaabe (also known as Nishnaabe or Anishinabe)/Metis and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe ( Lindstrom also published the children’s book “Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle” in 2013.

This book has not gone unnoticed by book bloggers. A popular blog, Book Riot, lists the book under “Ten Picture Books for the Budding Environmentalists”, and Lindstrom’s book is also featured on CBC, The New York Times, and Publisher’s Weekly.

The phrase “We are water protectors” may sound familiar. “We are water protectors” says Don Sampson to tribes opposed to the movement protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Sampson is both the head of the climate change program from the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), and a traditional chief of the Walla Walla Tribe of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Seattle Times). Sampson and his family fought with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe during the Standing Rock protest against the pipeline.

Photo from Dakota Access Pipeline protests in October of 2016

However, Lynda V. Mapes’ article continues “The fight isn’t only about one pipeline, but the larger battle for clean energy in a world in grave jeopardy because of emissions from fossil fuels that are heating the planet.” Sampson concludes “How can anyone look into the eyes of grandchildren and say, we did nothing.” Although popularized protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline have passed, the fight to protect water and the legacy of the protests continue.

Lindstrom takes this popular quote, “we are water protectors”, to invite readers into an important project and movement taking place in the United States. 

It is important to also remember these pipes is a twofold threat of the environment and the culture of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s homeland. “An oil spill would permanently contaminate the reservation’s water supply and that construction of the pipeline would destroy sacred sites where many of their ancestors are buried” (Medina, 2016).

Given the background of the book, Lindstrom has a big shoe to fill, and she truly succeeds with her touching and beautiful work.

“We Are Water Protectors” is narrated by a young, unnamed girl. At the beginning of the book, she is told “Water is the first medicine” by Nokemis, who appears to be a grandmother or an older maternal figure.

Right off the bat Lindstrom emphasizes the importance of water, while Goade highlights its beauty and power through the illustration. Lindstrom continues, “We come from water. It nourished us inside our mother’s body. As it nourishes us here on Mother Earth. Water is sacred.” These short sentences remind me of water washing on and off of the beach, ebbing and flowing through the book.

She continues, “The river’s rhythm runs through my veins. Runs through my people’s veins.” Again, the importance of water is established. The protagonist states the river runs through her people’s veins, connecting them altogether in a water system as unique and complex as the individuals within her community. In the illustration her dark hair flows across the page into a blue-green body of water, complete with fish, bright coral lily flowers, and lily pads.

This photo not only emphasizes how the river “runs through [her] veins”, but the river is part of her identity and her people’s identity. She finds love and joy in the water, but also a need to protect what is being taken from them.

The narrator continues, “my people talk of a black snake that will destroy the land. Spoil the water. Poison plants and animals. Wreck everything in its path…Its venom burns the land, courses through the water, making it unfit to drink.”

Here the water and land are threatened, as is perhaps the characters’ identity as water protectors. As opposed to the previously calming blues and greens, the snake is on this bright orange background, almost reminiscent of the sky during fires that California has come to know. This orange cloud seems to suffocate or suppress the flowers on the bottom left which bend over the pipe, as if weeping its petals away. The portrayal of the pipe as a snake emphasizes the real danger that these pipes being built have on the plants and animals, as well as the people. The snakes [or pipes] not only poison the living, but the water itself is unfit to drink. Water, a necessity for organisms to live, is being taken by this snake pipe.

However, the protagonist does not lose hope. She says “TAKE COURAGE! I must keep the black snake away from my village’s water. I must rally my people together.”

The protagonist calls the reader to action in her our actions. She is saying take courage to herself, her village, and everyone reading this. In the face of black snakes and threatened land, she tells herself to have courage in order to save her village.

“We Are Water Protectors” is a powerful, resonating, and timely book that I think readers of all ages should pick up.



Carole Lindstrom - author of children's literature. (2013). Retrieved from

Mapes, L. V. (2020, August 6). What’s next for the Dakota Access Pipeline? Recent court rulings cast doubt on future. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from

Medina, D. A. (2016, November 4). Dakota Access Pipeline: What's Behind the Protests? NBC News. Retrieved from

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