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Children's book publisher returns to native Perham to read to kids

1993 Perham High School graduate Joanne Zacharias, reading her recently published children's book to Perham kindergarten students.1 / 2
Joanne Zacharias visited Perham elementary students. Note her blaze-orange fingernails--which she painted to humor her father, David Zacharias, with whom she went deer hunting last weekend.2 / 2

A Richville native returned to her roots last week, teaching Perham children about her other ancestral roots--as a Native American and member of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

"Taku Wadaka He?" (What do you see?) is the name of Joanne Zacharias's colorfully illustrated children's book.

An educator, who graduated from Perham High School in 1993 and later from the College of St. Catherine, Zacharias is helping preserve the heritage of her ancestors.

As a certified teacher of the Dakota language, Zacharias is helping keep a "dying language" alive.

Kindergarten students at Perham's Heart of the Lakes Elementary School learned the Dakota word for many words, including eagle, bear and home--which for a Native American of the Great Plains is, of course, "tipi."

After being rejected by several publishers, Joanne raised $36,000 to self-publish the book.

In addition to exposing children to Native American language and heritage, Zacharias's presentation emphasized that they should work diligently to realize their dreams and achieve their ambitions.

"Publishing this book was a dream come true," she said to the youngsters, adding that the book was three years in the making. Previously, she also published coloring books with Native American themes, and she gave copies to students as a gift during her visit.

She is planning a series of these books. Joanne's books will serve as an aid for all of the children and adults who would like to learn the Dakota language, and as a creative way to share her knowledge of the Dakota people and language with others.

The illustrations in the book were painted by Steven Anthony Smith, Minnetonka. This is the first time his illustrations have been published in a children's book.

Already the book is in the nomination process for a "Picture Book of the Year" award, said Zacharias.

The book was inspired after the passing of her grandfather, Donald Zacharias--who taught her many lessons about family, the outdoors, and life in general. He taught Joanne that everything is related in some way or another on this earth. He had great respect for all of the animals because every animal has its own reason for being.

As Joanne recalls, when her grandfather Donald died, there was "a rainbow from one end of the earth to the other." It was the biggest and brightest rainbow that she had ever seen. Now, whenever she sees a rainbow, she knows that her grandfather is watching over her and her family.

The daughter of David and Loretta Zacharias, Richville, Joanne was a "farm kid" who played basketball and volleyball for the Perham Yellow Jackets and also for the Fergus Falls community college.

Her mother is part Sioux.

Joanne was back in town Nov. 7 for deer hunting weekend with her father--a tradition for the Zacharias family--but also one of which Joanne's Dakota Sioux ancestors would be proud.