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Book by Kootenay Bay author tells tale of Alberta settlers and First Nations

The October publication of Napi’s Dance meant that Alanda Greene was finally able to tell the story that has its roots in her childhood...
The cover of Napi's Dance

It took decades, but the October publication of Napi’s Dance meant that Kootenay Bay’s Alanda Greene was finally able to tell the story that has its roots in her childhood.

Her father’s parents homesteaded in Southern Alberta, and when she was young, Greene and her family would visit the farm each summer to help with the harvest.

“I would walk with my father in the country where there was still untouched prairie,” she said. “I kept having visions of people who were there.”

And while living on the edge of Calgary, she would often gallop bareback on her horse into the country to get a feel for times past.

“I felt like a country mouse even though I lived in the city,” she said. “I would imagine it without fences in those open areas.”

Napi’s Dance tells the story of Snake Woman, a member of the Blackfoot, which dominated Southern Alberta in the mid-1800s, and 15-year-old Eleanor, who arrives in Western Canada with her homesteading parents in the mid-1800s. Their backgrounds differ greatly, but they share a love of the sweeping prairie landscape and a hope that their respective peoples can survive a time of great change.

Like Eleanor, Greene’s grandmother was 15 when she moved to Alberta, and although the character is quite different, that age played an important role in the creation of Napi’s Dance.

“It’s that time when young women are really able to make new connections to nature and be receptive to something new,” Greene said. “She was the right age for being taken out of the culture she was in and taken to this vast open prairie.”

Greene’s childhood memories were obviously key to the story, which was sparked in 1992, at the burial of her 98-year-old grandmother, who died just after Greene completed an intensive course at the Yasodhara Ashram.

While at a Lethbridge cemetery, recalled Greene, “the minister takes the dirt and she scatters it on top and says, ‘Ashes to ashes.’ A pack of coyotes comes over the ridge and starts to sing. ... What came to my mind is that there was a story to be told. I don’t know if it was about my grandmother, but it was about that land.”

She began researching the First Nations and settlers’ experiences, and discovered that settlers had a strong sense they could do what they wished with the land.

“It was quite a disruption for those people there, a tremendous disruption of a way of life that came through the disruption to the land,” said Greene, a retired teacher who manages the Yasodhara Ashram bookstore.

She and her husband, Sonni, moved to the East Shore in 1975 with the goal of using it as a base for travelling and teaching.

“I was definitely not ready to settle down — but apparently Sonny was,” she said with a laugh.

They bought land at Kootenay Bay in 1978, then built a house in 1983. She continued to teach at the Crawford Bay school, and in 1996, wrote Rights to Responsibility: Multiple Approaches to Developing Character and Community, a book for middle school educators.

“I did a lot of writing for education journals,” said Greene. “The publishing company noted I was writing a lot of things in Green Teacher. They asked if I could pull it together into a whole book.”

It was a different experience writing fiction, and Greene had a strong urge to include too much historical information, but when that was edited out, it left behind a strong story — one that was editor’s choice on iTunes for the week of Oct. 22-29, quite an accomplishment at the end of the long road toward publication.

“I’m not quite sure I ever believed it would get published,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing to do for an unknown writer.”

Napi’s Dance is available at the Yasodhara Ashram and Gray Creek Store on Kootenay Lake’s East Shore, Otter Books in Nelson and Lotus Books in Cranbrook.