Welcome Family and Friends to Bighouse
Along the Pacific Northwest Coast, from Alaska through British Columbia to Washington, there are several related, yet diverse, aboriginal cultures (First Nations). Prior to contact with Europeans, these peoples had developed complex social systems, wide trade routes, economic prosperity, and one of the most complex art forms in the world.
The Potlatch (traditional First Nations business) and the Winter Ceremonies are the vehicles for cultural connections all along the Coast. Our story-teller, Gana, explains, “My family has been planning this p`asa (Potlatch) for years and saving to buy gifts for our guests. In some ways, the p`asa is a lot like a party but instead of people bringing us gifts, we give gifts to everyone who comes.
There are songs, dances, plays, and stories. But also, there are marriages, funerals, naming ceremonies, birth announcements, re-telling of our histories, reminders of our culture, wearing the outfits that our ancestors wore, showing and giving away blankets, large pieces of copper, tools, canoes, jewellery, masks, food, toys and other gifts. The family asks everyone who comes to remember everything they saw. That’s what the gifts are for. They are a kind of payment to remember.
This custom comes from a time when my people didn’t write things down to remember them. People had very good memories. They told important facts and stories to their kids and their kid’s kids. Nowadays, I can read facts and stories in books, see them on DVD and movies, as well as hearing about them from my elders.”
About the author:
Nella Cook Nelson, originally from the N’amgis Nation, was born and raised in Alert Bay, B.C. Her father George Cook is from the Tsakis N’amgis and K’ómoks Nations and her mother, Ruth Sewid-Mundy, descends from the Da’naxda’xw and the Mamallikula Nations. After marrying Alex Nelson in 1972, Nella became part of the Dzawataineuk Nation of Kingcome Inlet. She has a daughter Tasha, and grandsons Gigalis, Braden, Dallas and Zayden. Over the years Nella and Alex have taken in and cared for 29 children from their home territories. It wasn’t until Nella was in grade 4 that integration occurred and aboriginal students were allowed to attend the public schools. When she was 12-years-old, the first Bighouse since the anti-potlatch law had been lifted was built in Alert Bay. Watching it being built was a highlight of her childhood. Nella attended both Camosun College and the University of Victoria. When she started teaching in public schools in 1979, aboriginal content didn’t exist. After 11 years teaching, she coordinated the Victoria School District’s Aboriginal Nations Education Division for 27 years. She serves on Provincial, college, university, community boards and advisory committees to improve aboriginal health, safety and education. Nella has recieved the Queen’s 125 Commemorative Medal, YM/YWCA Women of Distinction, Camosun’s Distinguished Alumni, and Excellence in Cultural Heritage & Diversity Awards. Nella’s motto is: “We strive to put a new memory into the minds of our children.” Gilakasla
About the illustrator:
Karin Clark is a writer, teacher, and artist with over 35 years experience working with both children and adults. She learned from and taught with British Columbia’s First Nations in public and private schools, colleges, and art classes, as well as university teacher education programs. She co-wrote the book Framework for Developing First Nations Curriculums with Nella Cook Nelson as well as 30 other books as author or co-author. With a primary focus on building bridges of understanding among cultures, Karin has written and published books about how to appreciate as well as how to draw, paint and carve in the artistic styles of the Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations. In an ideal world, everyone would experience a Potlatch or sit and listen to elders teach us about it. Karin regards this book as a family book to be shared. The children and adults in this story are all different ages and at different stages of knowing and learning about Kwakwaka’wakw culture. Parents, grandparents, older and younger siblings and cousins, as well as older and younger friends can read it and learn together. We can all learn about this fascinating culture as we read Gana’s story. Karin concurs with Nella’s observation that, “In a time when technology plays an integral role in the lives of all people, it is important for children and youth to remember the teachings of their ancestors and to keep themselves grounded in their ancestral stories and their sense of place.”