Young readers who like a mystery have a new series to enjoy and anticipate. The Case of Windy Lake, the first in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series for middle grade readers, introduces Sam, Otter, Atim, and Chickadee, four cousins growing up on the Windy Lake First Nation.
They have already earned a reputation for solving mysteries, so when a visiting archeologist goes missing, they are immediately on the case.
After their chores are done, the first step is to go to their well-hidden and well-supplied (with a computer, complete with internet connection) secret fort to find out all they can about the missing man.
At the same time, their activist cousin Denice is working to obtain consultation with the mining company that is operating on their land. She secures herself to a post on the company grounds and refuses to move.
Winnipeg-based author Michael Hutchinson grew up on Misipawistik Cree Nation in Treaty 5 territory in northern Manitoba, an area very much like Windy Lake.
“My first memories were of my grandparents’ house in town and then out in the bush at their different camps where they gathered berries or fished or shared time with family,” he says.
As a preteen, he moved with his parents to a farm in southern Manitoba, but the family travelled back to their home territory every spring break, summer holiday and Christmas.
And life in the fictional Windy Lake mirrors both those homes. “Wherever we were, my brothers and cousins and I would create cool forts, sometimes out of old vehicles, sometimes out of piles of brush and rock. No matter where we lived, our Elders had chores for us to do. The outdoors was our playground, and we only went home when we were hungry.”
Books were a mainstay in his childhood home, including series such as The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators, which gave Hutchinson the idea to create a similar series for Indigenous kids.
“I wanted to write a book that made Indigenous youth feel proud and capable,” he says. “I grew up doing things that my city friends didn’t consider possible for a kid to do. First Nations youth have knowledge, talents, and skills that fit their environment. I wanted to have First Nations kids read about things that they might do in a way that is positive and appreciative.
“I hope any young person who reads my book learns a little about First Nations people, their different ways of thinking, and the relationship they have with Canada.”
Hutchinson is currently working on the second book in the Muskrats series. While the first one has a secondary storyline about economic development and activism, the next has a secondary storyline about the struggles Indigenous youth face when they move to the city.
“I have two children, so I write when I can. Writing is both enjoyable and painful for me. So fun when it flows, so painful when it doesn’t,” he says. “I pace a lot, pull my lip, swear at the cat. Then snap my fingers, skip over to the computer, and type the rest of the conversation my characters were having.”