St. Marys area author’s children’s book, Little Bear in Foster Care, wins Indigenous literature award

St. Marys area author S.P. Joseph Lyons’ book, Little Bear in Foster Care, inspired by his own experiences as an Indigenous kid living in the foster-care system, recently won First Nation Communities READ’s 2022-2023 PMC Indigenous Literature Award.

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For St. Marys area author S.P. Joseph Lyons, growing up as an Indigenous child in the foster-care system meant separation from family, community, culture and a sense of identity.

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Looking back on that time from his dream home on his own slice of rural Perth County land, Lyons remembers having little sense of who he was and where he fit into society as an Indigenous person. At the time, Lyons said he couldn’t see a life beyond his immediate circumstances and the idea of hope for the future seemed firmly out of his grasp.

“In my experience, I didn’t know where I was, why I was is foster care, where my family had gone. I didn’t know anything and nobody gave me any answers,” Lyons said. “So I felt really lost, really scared, really confused. Where every other child in the world had a mom and a dad, a bed, clothes, toys, family trips, knew where they fit into society, I had none of that.

“So when I finally got adopted, I had no sense of what it’s like to interact with peers. I didn’t know what was socially acceptable and what wasn’t. I had never had an opportunity to experience this. I’d never been in that family setting.”

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Now, Lyons has found success, purpose and connection to community and culture, but he knows there are many Indigenous children in the foster-care system today experiencing the same hopelessness and isolation he endured. Through his children’s book, Little Bear in Foster Care, which recently won First Nation Communities READ’s 2022-2023 PMC Indigenous Literature Award, Lyons is hoping to reach out to those kids to let them know they are still connected to family, community and culture, even if they don’t know it, and there will be a life after foster care.

“The whole idea of the book was to give those in the same place I once was some answers and some hope, something I didn’t have when I was in foster care,” Lyons said. “Too often, as is the case with intergenerational trauma and a lot of my family members, they didn’t make it through on the other end okay. I did and it was a lot of hard work, but I never want to forget where I came from, where I was at the time and the fact there are children still in that process who may be feeling scared and alone, who may not know where they belong, where they fit in.

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“I wanted to give them something to say, ‘I know how you feel and I know what you’re going through. And there is a circle process available to you that you can ask for where your family and community will come into that circle so you never need to feel scared and alone and disconnected from who you are.’ ”

Through his story, which he wrote as a sort of letter to himself as a child in the foster-care system, Lyons said he tries to answer a lot of the burning questions he asked himself as a kid. “Who am I? Do I matter?”

“I wanted to give some answers to these little ones and say, ‘Yes, you absolutely matter. This situation is temporary and you’ll go on to do amazing things in your life afterwards.’ I put a little note in the back of the book from me to the kids to say, ‘I get it. I was there. I know how this works, but I’m cheering you on to do amazing things after this is over.’ ”

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Lyons, who has been reading his book to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in as many schools as possible, said he sees his work as a bridge to help Indigenous kids overcome the hardships of foster care to find a life full of possibilities and hope on the other side. And for non-Indigenous children, Lyons hopes Little Bear in Foster Care will offer them and their families some understanding of the challenges Indigenous children in foster care face.

“For the longest time I wondered, ‘Why me? Why did I have to experience this?’ If it was so I could create this (book) for those going through it, then it was all worth it. I’d do it again,” Lyons said. “If I can in any way make that journey easier for kids — it’s what I would have wanted — why wouldn’t I?”

While he’s humbled by the award — one he didn’t even know he was up for until his publisher called to tell him he’d won — Lyons is more excited by the idea of Little Bear in Foster Care being read in more schools and by more families, and hopefully getting into the hands of the kids who need to read it most.

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