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Yukon illustrator’s dedication to First Nations languages recognized with award

Susan McCallum was presented with the Council of the Federation Literacy Award on Sept. 5

In recognition of her artwork, which has been worth thousands of words when it comes to promoting Yukon First Nations languages, Susan McCallum has been presented with the 2023 Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

The award was presented during a Sept. 5 ceremony at the Guild Hall Theatre in Porter Creek, with Deputy Premier and Education Minister Jeanie McLean on hand to make the presentation. The hall’s walls were adorned with McCallum’s artwork, including some framed prints but also copies of the books and other educational materials that she has illustrated.

“This award was established in 2004 to celebrate Canadians who have made meaningful contributions within the literacy field. These contributions can be in many areas, including family, Indigenous, health, workplace and community literacy,” McLean said.

“Susan has devoted her life’s passion for illustration to keeping Yukon First Nations language strong and thriving.”

In a decade-spanning career that has seen her illustrations featured in books, educational board games and on an episode of Sesame Street, among many other venues, McCallum has remained committed to promoting First Nations language. Along with lending artwork to learning materials, McCallum has made a direct impact on Yukon classrooms with her school program, Brushworks with Susan, which aims to foster children’s confidence and respect for nature and Indigenous cultures.

“I just believe so much in First Nations Indigenous languages. And I knew that I could help with that. And I was so blessed to have the friendship of some incredible Indigenous elders,” McCallum said, accepting the award.

After accepting her award, McCallum called up speakers of Southern Tutchone, Hän and Tlingit, all of whom thanked her for her contributions to materials that help to learn and teach the languages. The Tlingit speaker, Jenoah Esquiro, was especially grateful as McCallum is her mother. Esquiro recounted checking out books in Tlingit from the library when she first began learning her language only to find that McCallum had illustrated them and that McCallum didn’t even know where the work would appear after giving her art over for use in learning resources.

“She didn’t even know that when the time came that I came to want to learn my language, then I’d be guided by her work,” Esquiro said, stressing that McCallum had always been her biggest supporter in learning the Tlingit language.

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Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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