May 15, 2024

Telling Stories

Indigenous artist Jadyn Fischer-McNab is following her passion and inspiring the next generation of young readers.
BLTB Jadyn Banner

Jadyn Fischer-McNab, BSc’15, BEd’18, entered the University of Calgary in 2011, initially pursuing a degree in kinesiology with dreams of becoming a physiotherapist. However, beneath this career ambition lay another childhood aspiration: to become a teacher, inspired by her father. She found herself drawn to the field of physiotherapy due to her active lifestyle and interests. Yet, as she navigated the challenges of university life, she began to reassess her career path.

Upon completing her kinesiology degree and briefly working as a physiotherapist aide, Fischer-McNab still found herself drawn to education — a yearning for the fulfilment teaching brought. This revelation prompted her to return to UCalgary, this time enrolling in an after-degree program and specializing in physical education. Since 2018, she has worked with the Calgary Board of Education as a phys-ed teacher, a perfect blend of her passions. 

For Fischer-McNab, this transition came at a time when she was not only finding her way career-wise, but spiritually and personally, as well. 

“I always shout out Darren Lund, who unfortunately has passed” said Fischer-McNab about the longtime UCalgary community leader and scholar-activist, BEd’83, PhD, who died in 2021. “He was a driving force at the university for me to become comfortable with talking about who I am, being an Indigenous person. It just blossomed from there.” 

However, sport and teaching were not her sole passions. From a young age, Fischer-McNab had a desire to pursue art as a means of expression. During her university years, she found solace in her artistic endeavours, using drawing and painting as a coping mechanism for her anxiety. This passion evolved into a side gig, with her selling greeting cards and other art creations while juggling her teaching responsibilities.

JFM Book Signing

Jadyn Fischer-McNab

Two years ago, fate intervened when Fischer-McNab was approached to illustrate a children's book — a lifelong dream come true. This opportunity allowed her to merge her passions for teaching and artistry. She was approached by Melissa Allan, who was writing a children's book. Allan had attended the same high school and was best friends with Fischer-McNab’s now sister-in-law. She stumbled upon Fisher-McNab’s art on social media and decided to extend the invitation to collaborate on illustrating her book, Brave Like the Buffalo. Without hesitation, the offer was accepted, marking the beginning of a friendship and business partnership that would blossom from this chance encounter.

For Fischer-McNab, it was more than just the opportunity to illustrate a book; it was the profound significance of the story itself. Allan’s narrative, centred on a mother buffalo guiding her calf through a storm, resonated deeply with Fischer-McNab, particularly because of its authentic Indigenous connection. Being of Cree descent herself, she understood the importance of accurate representation in literature and embraced the opportunity to infuse her cultural heritage in the illustrations.

“When I read the story, I definitely wanted to put my name on something like it,” says Fischer-McNab, adding it speaks to the authenticity of Allan’s words. “It was told to her as fact from an Elder years ago; that the Buffalo run through storms and they don't run away from them.” 

JFM Niece

Jadyn Fischer-McNab

Reflecting on her childhood love for children's books and the impact of Indigenous storytelling, Fischer-McNab recognizes the transformative power of representation. Growing up, she grappled with a sense of detachment surrounding her Indigenous identity, a sentiment perpetuated by a lack of Indigenous representation in the media, culture and literature. 

“I felt (I wasn’t encouraged) growing up,” says Fischer-McNab “I didn't like to call myself Indigenous; my parents never taught me about it; my dad attended residential schools, but I didn't know until I was 14 or 15. It's just something that wasn't talked about.” 

Continuing on her journey, she envisions her next step as not just illustrating but also writing her own books. While she has thoroughly enjoyed the process of illustrating, she feels compelled to share her own voice and stories with the world. Children's books, with their charm and accessibility, serve as a promising entry point for her to express herself authentically. However, she remains open to exploring various avenues, including weaving her own family narratives into her work.

“I want to share stories from my family and things I've learnt about my culture and my identity, but I also want to share things about me, too,” says Fischer-McNab. “I want to be a part of (the change); at least, that's the goal.”

“For example, an idea of mine has been a personal experience I've had with my dad regarding the northern lights. I want to tell that story, and it has a very clear Indigenous tie. But then I also own a wiener dog and I'd love to write a children's book about my dog, as a story made by an Indigenous person.” 

Embracing the digital age, Fischer-McNab has leveraged platforms like Instagram and TikTok to share her art and stories, witnessing a significant shift in how her work is received. By infusing her identity as an Indigenous artist into her creations, she has found a deeper connection with her audience, transcending geographical boundaries and resonating with people globally. Even her journey to find a publisher for herself and Allan was facilitated through the power of social media, highlighting the reach and impact digital platforms can have on emerging artists.

Reflecting on her growth and confidence as an artist, Fischer-McNab still attributes much of her journey to her experience at UCalgary, where she found a supportive community that allowed her to embrace her identity and voice. This newfound confidence has not only empowered her to speak openly about her heritage, but has also fueled her artistic expression, infusing her work with deeper meaning and intention. As she continues to navigate her path as an artist, she remains grateful for the transformative influence of her university experience, helping to shape her into the confident and authentic artist she is today.

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Little Red Reading House

Fischer-McNab's dedication to literacy and community outreach finds resonance in initiatives like the Little Red Reading House, a cherished space that fosters a love for reading among children and families. Established in 2017 by Calgary Reads, the House offers a whimsical haven where youngsters can immerse themselves in the enchanting world of books. Located in Inglewood, the Little Red Reading House recently became a part of UCalgary’s Owerko Centre, with support from Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, symbolizing a collaborative effort to blend research with community engagement.

Aligned with this mission, the House now serves as a platform for monthly events showcasing local authors and illustrators like Fischer-McNab. In February 2024, she participated in the series alongside Allan to present Brave Like the Buffalo. The event garnered significant interest, with enthusiastic young readers eagerly immersing themselves in the captivating world of literature. She remains deeply engaged with UCalgary’s educational endeavours, notably contributing to the Werklund School of Education's Books to Build On program. 

Spearheaded by Dr. Aubrey Hanson, PhD’17, and Dr. Erin Spring, PhD, the program provides educators with access to Indigenous resources and teaching plans, aligning perfectly with Fischer-McNab’s passion for children's literature and Indigenous representation. Her role as a research assistant on the team reflects her dedication to promoting inclusivity and cultural diversity within education. Through these initiatives, she seamlessly integrates her various interests and commitments, contributing to the causes of literacy and community engagement.