Written by Nella Nelson
Illustrated by Karin Clark
An Indigenous children's book about potlatch ceremonies on the west coast of Canada.
A contemporary potlatch ceremony as told by Gana, a 12-year-old, Kwakwaka’wakw girl
Welcome Family and Friends to Our Bighouse, written by Nella Cook Nelson and illustrated by Karin Clark, is a contemporary story told through the voice of a 12-year-old Kwakwaka’wakw girl named Gana who lives in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay) on Cormorant Island. In this Indigenous children’s book we learn that from the time she is little, Gana attends potlatches and ceremonies in the gukwdzi (Bighouse).
The regalia Gana wears—a button blanket, dancing apron and masks—were designed and made for her based on her family origins or clans. Her grandparents and other relatives teach Gana how and where her family and community came to live in this world. She learns dances and songs that belong to her family and ancestors. Relatives also teach her cultural protocol and expectations while she attends potlatch ceremonies and other ceremonies, like mourning, marriage, naming, and peace ceremonies and dances. 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.
This Indigenous children’s book is based on the author’s experiences witnessing family potlatch ceremonies in the Bighouses at Alert Bay and Kingcome Inlet.
Nella Cook Nelson, originally from the N’amgis Nation and born and raised in Alert Bay, BC, drew from her experiences witnessing family potlatch ceremonies, feasts, and other west coast Indigenous traditions when writing this Indigenous children’s book. It wasn’t until Nella was in grade 4 that aboriginal students were allowed to attend public schools. When she was 12-years-old, the first Bighouse since the anti-potlatch law had been lifted, was built in Alert Bay.
“The teachings of the Bighouse have been in existence since time immemorial and have evolved through time. In essence, the teachings provide the conduit for our people to reach back into the origin of time to conduct our sacred and traditional ceremonies related to the stages of life: birth, puberty, marriage, death, naming, and transferring of rights and privileges,” writes Nella in her author’s note.
More about this Indigenous Children’s book on the potlatch:
- Full colour illustrations showing indigenous masks and regalia in context.
- Contains some Kwak’wala words with meaning and pronunciation guides.
- 11” x 8.5” soft cover, 96 pages.
“What a wonderful story in “Welcome Family and Friends to Our Bighouse”. We so enjoyed it and our 6 year old granddaughter begged to have it read to her over and over. She declared it was her favourite book and asked to take it home with her. Needless to say we were so happy to see her enjoy it and have it added to her book shelf.” - Ruth Vey
“I ordered the book, Welcome Family and Friends to Our Bighouse, 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