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Alanna Russell

September 21, 2016


English 308-02
Children’s Literature

The Seasons of Omakayas’s Life

In Louise Erdrich’s “The Birchbark House”, Omakayas encounters countless obstacles

and life challenges through each of the four seasons. Omakayas is a tough child who grows up

and learns a lot about who she is by the time the fourth full season has come around. Through

Omakayas’s relationship with Old Tallow, her younger brother Neewo, the rest of her family,

and through her rich Ojibwe beliefs, we are shown that she is shaped in her life in ways that one

cannot imagine for a girl as young as she is. Through Omakayas’s powerful connection with

nature and the animals surrounding her, Omakayas learns more and more through each season

about herself and her family, and she is forced to grow up because of her role as a healer.

At the start of the novel it is summer for Omakayas and her family, and they are

beginning to build their birch bark house. Omakayas is an innocent seven-year old girl who

desperately wants to have tasks that are more fun and adventurous than tanning moose skin.

Omakayas’s first obstacle in the novel comes in the summer when she is set off on a task that she

is actually excited for, fetching her mother’s scissors from Old Tallow. The first instance we are

shown through the novel of Omakayas’s incredible braveness is when she encounters Old

Tallow’s dogs. The big yellow dog is especially mean and he hates Omakayas. “Omakayas

screwed up her courage, breathed calmly. She walked forward, shoving him aside as though she

had not a care for his dripping teeth. She got ready to deliver a hard kick if he lunged, and

walked past him without showing her fear” (Erdrich 21). It is shown here that Omakayas has a

special connection with animals, even ones who do not like her. She is able to thwart off the

yellow dog’s advance by displaying her bravery. On her way home from her meeting with Old

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Tallow, Omakayas encounters a family of bears. This is another interaction that shows

Omakayas’s extraordinary connection with all things in nature. Omakayas shows her respect and

lovingness towards nature when she treats the bear cubs like her own brothers. When the mother

bear comes along to protect the cubs, Omakayas’s braveness is shown once again when she is

ready to fight if the mother bear tries to attack her, but also extremely respecting of the bears life

even calling her “grandmother”. “But now you’re here, Grandmother, I will leave quietly. These

scissors in my hands are not for killing, just for sewing. They are nothing compared to your teeth

and claws” (Erdrich 31). Omakayas has learned from her own grandma and her Ojibwe beliefs

that although you may have to use nature to your own advantage to survive as a human being,

nature is to be respected in all ways possible.

As the novel moves along, fall time also comes for Omakayas and her family. They

prepare for the winter and the unknown sorrow that lays ahead for them. Nokomis, Omakayas’s

grandma, shows the importance of praying to the creator for protection and gratitude for the earth

they live on. This attitude of gratitude definitely shows the importance that nature has for

Omakayas because her grandmother is whom she learns from as a healer. It is in the fall time that

we do learn more of Omakayas’s future role as a healer. Nokomis emphasizes the importance of

the role she will have as a healer, “How to use them when someone is sick, where to find them,

how to prepare them just the right strength. I wondered if they had picked you to talk to, my

granddaughter. I’ve been watching how quiet you are sometimes. Your mama told me about the

bear cubs in the woods” (Erdrich 104). Her grandmother takes note of the unique way Omakayas

interacts with nature and she knows that one day her healing powers will be used to help others.

As fall goes on, the family continues to prepare for the upcoming season that will forever change

their family.

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Winter is the true testament for Omakayas and all that she believes in. With the disease of

smallpox that invades her entire family including her father and her baby brother, Omakayas

being the only one not sick, takes on the role as a healer for the first time. Omakayas does

everything she can to take care of her family, but in the end her baby brother dies. The sadness

and depression that invades Omakayas’s heart is a lot for a young girl to handle. The only thing

that can save her from her own sadness even for a little while is the outside world, nature, Old

Tallow and her family. “The great deer had saved their bodies, and Pinch’s absurd jump had

saved their souls, for Nokomis said shortly after that her own grandmother had believed that soul

of the Anishinabeg is made of laughter” (Erdrich 185). Although her family and especially

Omakayas struggled after the death of her baby brother, they had to carry on and use nature to

their advantage. They were starving and the capture of the deer symbolized a new leaf turning

for them. The winter represented Omakayas’s deep depression and sorrow for her baby brother

forcing her to grow up, but the spring would be her revival.

Spring comes and it is a time of happiness and new beginnings for Omakayas. Although

she will always have the sadness of the loss of her baby brother, spring is when she learns about

who she is. Her role as a healer is one that she now knows she has. Old Tallow reveals how she

had been infected with small pox as a baby and that was the reason she was able to help care and

heal her family throughout the winter. The novel ends with Omakayas herself healed completely

and at her happiest by nature. “Omakayas tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her

eyes, and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air

like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart” (Erdrich 239). This shows that through the

help of family and nature, Omakayas is able to battle her demons and continue her life after her

horrible loss. Spring represents her new life as a healer.

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Omakayas’s life changes just as the seasons change throughout the novel. Her naïve

sense of self and wonderment of the world is scraped away as fall turns into winter. She grows

up early in her life but her revival as a healer is showcased when winter turns into spring. The

outside world and nature had the greatest influence on her life and how it developed throughout

the story.