Earlier this year, the Oneida Indian Nation’s Language Program was set to premiere its new illustrative and educational children’s book, in collaboration with Madison-Oneida BOCES, of the Haudenosaunee legend, “How the Bear Lost His Tail.” The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans and temporarily placed the book on the sidelines from March through June. But now, the Nation is ready for the world to see its newest language-learning tool for children. Copies will be available at the Nation Library inside the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center for the community to enjoy.

“We wanted to start with something kid-friendly,” Language Instructor Mary Blau (Turtle Clan) said. “We’re going to pass them out at schools and bring them to libraries so we can get them in their hands as soon as possible.”

The first book of a series of others to follow helps kids focus on two main words to learn by the end: bear (pronounced “oh gwal”) and fox (pronounced “skuh noks”). The two words are featured throughout and introduced in big letters in the beginning with the Oneida word and its phonetics. They are also the only two words without the English spelling so kids can get used to saying the Oneida words on their own as they read.

“If a teacher wanted to read to their kids they can use the English version and focus just on the fox and bear,” Mary said. “It’s designed to reinforce those Oneida words so by the end of the story they at the very least know how to say fox and bear in Oneida.”

The legend tells the story of how a sly fox convinced a bear to fish with his beautiful tail. The bear loses his tail in the icy water because of the joke the fox played on him, which is a good reminder for young people about the dangers of being too naïve. It’s important to be able to think critically and clear-eyed so you can make the best decisions — and avoid being “out-foxed.”

With just the picture and Oneida word for bear and fox, kids get extra practice at word recognition and pronunciation. The very end of the book features a mini glossary with some other Oneida words and pictures used in the book.

The Legend of How the Bear Lost His Tail is illustrated by William Burns (Lakota), a graphic designer for the Oneida Indian Nation’s external affairs department.