‘At the Mountain’s Base’ honors Native women’s military service
Cherokee author Traci Sorrell’s book “At the Mountain’s Base” focuses on a Cherokee family that awaits the return of their kin serving as a pilot in World War II. She said she hopes to make the military service of Native women more visible. COURTESY
Cherokee author Traci Sorell’s latest book honors the military service of Native women. Its afterword summarizes the achievements of Native women in the armed forces. COURTESY
Cherokee author Traci Sorell shows the inside of her latest book titled “At the Mountain’s Base” during a reading at a Tulsa book store in September. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee author Traci Sorell’s latest book honors the military service of Native women and hopes to make their service more visible.
“At the Mountain’s Base” tells of a Cherokee family awaiting the return of their kin serving as a World War II pilot. The book’s afterword summarizes the achievements of Native women in the armed forces and mentions the military career of Ola Mildred Rexroat, a Lakota pilot who served during World War II and the Korean Conflict.
“Sometimes a book comes about when I have a story idea and start writing. I read another pictured book called “In the Village by the Sea,” and it was a fictional book about this family waiting for their dad to come home. He was out fishing for a living, and it had these fantastical elements I didn’t really want, but it sparked (an) idea in me of Native families who are waiting for their family member to come home from being in the service whether that’s active duty here or in battle,” Sorell said.
She said the story’s structure, a circular poem, is what appealed to her.
“So, we start at the mountain’s base and that’s where we end up. We go on this journey that really talks about this family who are waiting for another family member to come home. One of things I try to do in my writing is look at what is invisible and try to make visible,” she said. “Not that our veterans in the Cherokee Nation or other tribes are invisible, but often the service of Native women is invisible.”
Historically, Native women have been involved in inter-tribal conflicts and conflicts with outside forces and have served in the U.S. armed forces, Sorell said.
“While there weren’t any Cherokee women that we know of who served as pilots in the women air force service in World War II, there actually was a Lakota woman, Ola Mildred Rexroat, who went by Millie. She would tow targets behind her plane that these male pilots would fire at. This sounds more dangerous to me almost than being in combat. She stayed on and served during the Korean War flying cargo, and she was also an air traffic controller,” she said.
After her death in 2017, Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota, dedicated a building after Rexroat.
“When I wrote the poem, I had in my mind it would be Native family waiting for their family member to come home. As you read the story, you see this grandmother with what I see are her granddaughters, but I didn’t say other than using she and her pronouns. I didn’t describe the family,” Sorrell said.
The book’s illustrator is Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva), an award-winning comics graphic artist who expanded on Sorell’s 111-word poem.
“The fact she breaks it up into panels like you would expect someone who does comics to do, I think it really allows the reader to savor the words but also get much more emotion and depth out of the story. I think it’s also the way to present what the toll is having people in conflict and in warfare,” Sorell said.
She added that when the book’s dust jacket is removed, the entire case cover is a “beautiful finger-weaving pattern” based on a Cherokee finger-weaving design. Also, the publisher allowed Alvitre to include the finger-weaving pattern on the book’s end papers, and each of its panels has yarn as an outline instead of a plain box.
“There’s so much wonderful use of things that make it a Cherokee book that I just love,” Sorell said. “We’ve already gotten three-star reviews and wonderful reception for the book so far.”
In September 2018, Sorell’s debut picture book, “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga,” was released and won the 2019 Sibert Medal Honor Award, the 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Award and the 2019 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award. The book reflects modern-day Cherokee life using history, culture, beliefs and the Cherokee language.
“At the Mountain’s Base” was released Sept. 17. The books are available at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop in Tahlequah and the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill or online through retailers.
In October, the New York Times listed “At the Mountain’s Base” among books that provide a better understanding of Native people and their diversity.
For information about the book, visit www.tracisorell.com
. For information about how it was created, visit https://www.cbcdiversity.com/post/187605235918/weaving-words-and-worlds-on-the-page-an-interview