Written by Nella Nelson
Illustrated by Karin Clark
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.”
I ordered the book, "Welcome Family and Friends to Our Bighouse," written by Nella Nelson and illustrated by Karin Clark, direct from Raven Publishing (and they deliver way faster than Amazon, by the way!)
The book has been a hit. My 8-year-old daughter is often fussy with books and sometimes loses interest, but this book was different. We have been reading the chapters before bedtime and she always looks forward to it. She is quite fascinated by this story about a young girl's experience of her family's pasa (potlatch) ceremony, and she listens intently. She also enjoys the unique illustrations which are colourful and lively and also have a photographic quality.
I think this is an ideal book for children because it is told in the words and the mind of a child. My two older children, 16 and 14, also enjoy learning about the vivid tradition of the Kwakwaka'wakw people. This book has inspired our family to look more deeply into our own traditions. I highly recommend this book, not only to families but also to schools. Thank you once again - Lisa Provedor
About the Author
Nella Nelson - 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 aboriginal students were allowed to attend British Columbia 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 received the Queen’s 125 Commemorative Medal, YM/YWCA Women of Distinction, Camosun’s Distinguished Alumni, and Excellence in Cultural Heritage & Diversity Awards.
Nella’s most recent book, Welcome Family and Friends to Our Bighouse, is a contemporary story told through the voice of a 12-year-old Kwakwaka’wakw girl named Gana, who lives in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay, BC). From the time she is little, Gana attends Potlatches and ceremonies in the Bighouse. The regalia she wears—a button blanket, dancing apron and masks—were designed and made for her based on her family origins or clans. The ancient cultural teachings she learns in the Bighouse are useful to Gana in her everyday life and continue to have value in the 21st century.
Nella’s motto is: “We strive to put a new memory into the minds of our children.” Gilakasla
About the Illustrator
Karin Clark, M.Ed. - Writer/teacher/artist Karin Clark has had over 35 years’ experience working with children and adults. Most of this time has been spent learning and teaching with British Columbia’s First Nations in public and private schools, colleges, art classes, aboriginal/social studies courses, and university teacher education programs.
With a primary focus on building bridges of understanding among cultures, Karin has written and published books that highlight and appreciate the varied and rich cultures of the NWPC indigenous peoples as well as how to draw, paint and carve in the artistic styles of the Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations.
In her first book, Learning by Doing Northwest Coast Native Indian Art, co-authored with Jim Gilbert, she used her experiences and training in special and cultural education to produce an easy-to-follow, beginners’ skill development curriculum designed to foster respect for First Nations culture through art.
Karin spends her work time evaluating teaching/learning strategies and materials, creating curriculum material, writing story books and readers, and using frameworks to create First Nations language programs. She creates material and workshops to: enhance self-esteem and motivation; create Native Indian art; learn and teach using the Cognitive Education Method’s (CEM) 6 keys to success; identify and explore personal learning styles and strategies; identify, strengthen, and remediate thinking skills and strategies; train instructors, paraprofessionals, and curriculum developers; and design flyers and brochures.
In writing Learning by Designing Pacific Northwest Coast Native Indian Art Volume 1 and Volume 2 and Learning by Doing Northwest Coast Native Indian Art with Jim, Karin has been able to use all her skills and experience to create useful resources for artists, students, teachers, and collectors.