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Haida Eagle Treasures

Haida Eagle Treasures

Traditional Stories and Memories from a Teacher of the Tsath Lanas Clan
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Introduction: Celebrating Haida Culture through Storytelling


The greatest gift a person can have is to know their identity and their culture. Who are you? Where do you come from? When you know your own history, culture, stories, crests, names, and songs, you are proud of who you are. When you know who you are, you have respect for yourself. You will have a positive attitude towards life and towards other people. You will have empowerment and ambition to pursue your goals. These accomplishments build your self-esteem. I am a Haida woman. I know who I am. I know where I come from. I am proud of my culture and heritage.


Born and raised in the beautiful mystical Islands of Haida Gwaii, this is my home where my family and I grew up. This is where my husband and I go to dig razor clams, and where my children and I go to swoop for crabs with our nets on the exquisite sandy beaches at Tow Hill. This is where my sister Adeline Penna and I go beach combing along the shores collecting gorgeous colorful agates, picking abalone and clams after a big North windstorm. I remember the exciting and challenging times when my sister Rose Bell and I travelled up to the Yakoun River to set up our nets across the river to catch our own sockeye, and this is where Rose and I courageously went out hunting for deer along the roads at Juskatla. I was taught all my life to listen and learn from our Elders. We were brought up in a gentle, but disciplined manner and we were taught at a young age how to work, maintain our integrity, and learn our culture. Children were encouraged to assume responsibility early in life and to work with and learn from adults. In a society in which individual experience was particularly valued, elders were expected to pass their knowledge on to younger people, both orally and by demonstration (Cruikshank, 1995, p. 10). These Islands are our ancient home where our great powerful ancestors have lived since time immemorial. The Haida have lived on Haida Gwaii (formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands) for the last nine millennia, according to the curator of Canada's National Museum (Johnson, 1987). Our Elders always tell us that we have lived here from the beginning of time. This book is a personal account of Haida history and culture that blends my personal voice with the Elder's voices, especially my mother's and grandmother's.


My book is the first of its kind to be told and written by a Haida woman. Frederick White, Ph.D., a tall, good-looking, intelligent Haida, also wrote a book called Ancestral Language Acquisition among Native Americans: A study of a Haida Language Class, published in 2008. Dr. White teaches composition, linguistics, and literature in the English department at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania. His research interests are vast, but he also has a major focus on linguistic and literacy fields, including Native American and First Nations cultural issues such as history, identity, Haida language revitalization, oral literature, education, and contact narratives. Dr. White is from the Tsath Lanas Eagle Clan. His mother's name is Margaret Bernhard. His grandfather's name is Clement White. Clement and my dad, Paul White, are brothers. Dr. White travels all over Canada and United States sharing his knowledge in education and First Nations culture to professional teachers at workshops and as a keynote speaker in education conferences. As teachers, Frederick and I are role models for the First Nations children and Haida communities. Teachers bring with them not only their fund of knowledge but also their culturally patterned ways of organizing and passing on that knowledge. Even more fundamentally, they bring the value systems of their communities concerning what is important to learn and how most appropriately to learn. Native traditions teachers are considered an integral part of the knowledge they possess, and their ways of teaching are as important as the knowledge itself. (Cooley and Ballenger, 1982)


I spent eight years in university and I have read many books on First Nations people. Many books have been written by anthropologists or researchers or linguistics that come to First Nations communities to research, study, and write life histories of First Nations people. Over the last century several authors have written about the Haida people (listed chronologically, Swanton, 1905a, 1905b, 1911, 1912; Curtis, 1970; Blackman, 1982; Drew, 1982; Cogo and Cogo, 1983; Enrico, 1986; Boelscher, 1989; Henley, 1989; MacDonald, 1994; Enrico, 1994, 1995; Enrico and Stuart, 1996; Turner, 2004; White, 2008). My efforts and goals in writing this book are to reach not only the audiences of non-native people, teachers, and children, but also to inspire the Haida community especially, where this book will perhaps encourage other clans from the Raven and Eagle moieties to write their history.


In their book In Celebration of Our Survival, Jensen and Brooks (1991) send an invitation out to aboriginal people to create a self-portrait of First Nations people: For years and years we as aboriginal people have been studied, observed and written about, generally by non-aboriginal writers (p. 9). They further state, "and sometimes even as fascinating anthropological specimens" (p. 9). While all of us who have been in the feast halls and have been involved in Indian organizations have heard the correct versions of our history and our leaders' plans and visions for the future, many people have not had the opportunity to be there and to hear this information first hand without the biases and slants of observers and interpreters. They further state: A portrait that will tell people who we really are, what we are doing, and our plans, hopes and dreams. We want to portray our strengths, accomplishments, contributions and visions. (p. 9) This is one of the purposes of my book, to portray our identity, pride, traditions, and culture, and tell people I am proud of our Haida heritage and culture.


My purpose is to emphasise that every culture, clan, and community has their own set of values, traditions, and beliefs. My husband, Art Collison, captures some of the concepts of our culture, spirituality, compassion, and family in the poem he wrote as follows:


Haida Gwaii Spirit (September 4, 1991)


My heart is the sea, like a caring father, with the inherent wisdom our forefathers had for thousands of years.


My breath is the four winds, like a loving mother, breathing the breath of life into us since the dawning of the four seasons of time.


My blanket is the warm comforting thoughts of our loved ones silently drifting over the cool blue sea, like grandmother passes her heartfelt love unto her children's children forever from land to sea, for she is our guiding light to life.


My feet are the earth, like a noble grandfather welcoming us home from a windswept sea.


The spirited wake of seafaring, cedar-crafted canoes surging upon the seashore, paddles dipping into ice waters in perfect harmony with beating drums and vibrant voices singing victorious sea songs.


Happy families descending upon the pebbly beaches as Haida sea hunters return from a call to venture over the enchanting deep blue sea.


Exciting distant images of the past lingering in the outer reaches of my mind, caught up in the wonderment of the vast changing times.


My spirit is nature dancing with the spirits of every living creature created by our ancestors who carved our totem poles which stand in the villages of our mystical Island called Haida Gwaii.


As our Elders live and love, remember to follow in their wise footsteps unto a pathway of peace and prosperity to a happy, fulfilling future life.


Cherish and share the loving memories of your parents and Elders. Let the happiness of their cheerful spirits shine around you like a bright and sunny day. They'll be there with a warm, loving heart.


Our children play harmoniously in the sunshine, gleefully calling one another's names with joyous laughter, their sounds drifting along in the gentle summer breeze. Little feet dancing in rhythm with the glittering ripple of the sea.


Listening to the melodious sounds of children playing with blessings from the heavenly skies leaves me content as the evening draws near.


As the sun sets over the western sea our evening sky is a peaceful glow. We're grateful for the riches from our ocean, mountains, valleys, trees, lakes, rivers. Always care deeply for Mother Nature.


As stars have eternally shone into the universe so will the spirits of the Haida Nation shine with pride and honor forever.


As the starlit sky dances with the brilliance of the northern lights may our spirits unite with our brothers and sisters of the First Nations for us to live in oneness.


Let the pride of our wise heritage inspire us to live in harmony with the spirits of our exalted First Nations.


In the chain of life, should a link become tarnished or broken, forge the link together with love, peace, honesty and forgiving kindness. Through your strength and courage inspire each new generation to forgiveness for it is the beginning of a peaceable, intellectual, existence.


Like the keen eyes and powerful wings of the soaring eagles, the spirits of our ancestors eternally watch over this vast ancient land and sea.


(A. Collison, 1993, p. 43)


When First Nations people learn their history, language, and culture, they will gain a sense of pride in their heritage and a sense of validity of their culture. Many First Nations children did not have the opportunity to learn their languages. My sister, Rose Bell remembers when she went to Residential School. She states the following:


"The government wanted to turn us into white people. Our cultural family units were broken apart. Also, part of becoming 'white' was to speak English. Because my parents also attended residential school, they didn't see the value in teaching us our language. The Indian Agent told them not to speak to their children in Haida because it would not help them in the school. My parents spoke Haida with other adults but didn't make much effort to teach me. My grandma always spoke Haida to me and I tried hard to understand but it was foreign. Now, in my present life, I know that the Haida language is the key to understanding my people. I need to learn it now and be able to pass it on to my grandchildren. I would love to speak to my mom and Elders in our language. I would learn so much about my heritage and history. It is only now I see and understand the importance of the Haida language." (Bell, 2001, pp. 8-11)


Language is a conveyor of culture. Language carries the ideas by which a nation defines itself as a people. Language gives voice to a nation's stories, its mythos. Stories are not just entertainment. Stories are power. They reflect the deepest, the most intimate perceptions, relationships, and attitudes of a people. Stories show how a people, a culture thinks. Such wonderful offerings are seldom reproduced by outsiders. Cultural insight, cultural nuance, cultural metaphor, cultural symbols, hidden subtext -- give a book or film the ring of truth. Images coded with our meanings are the very things missing in most "native" writing by non-native authors. These are the very things that give stories their universal appeal, that allow true empathy and shared emotion. (Slapin and Seale, 1992, pp. 98-99)


One way to develop a positive self-worth is through the wonderful art of storytelling; using First Nations stories as a pedagogical bridge allows First Nations children to understand their identity and heritage. There is a shared body of understanding among many indigenous peoples that education is really about helping an individual find his or her face, which means finding out who you are, where you come from and your unique character. (Cajete, 2000, p. 183) I believe students can build their self-confidence and self-esteem through the art of storytelling and reading.


As an educator, I believe storytelling and reading will plant seeds in the child's learning process and understanding of their unique identity. Through storytelling they will gain pride and respect for themselves. When children learn to read and write properly, they can comprehend the daily school assignments and feel proud of their accomplishments. They will be able to achieve their goals and dreams and they will be successful in completing their educational pursuits. I think I have a lot to contribute to students, regardless of their age or grade, because I am genuinely concerned about our culture. I think I've got a really good rapport with the students. They see me as a native person, and come up to me automatically. It's just easier for them to approach me because I am native. They don't have any second thoughts. I can understand their environment: where they come from. I can feel some of the struggles that their parents went through, and after I get to know them, I can help out more. If there's a problem with anything -- health, lack of food -- I can easily talk to them. I guess there is automatic sensitivity to me. They are able to see who I am, that I am a teacher, and that I can help them. (P. Collison as cited in Benyon, 2008, p. 11) My experiences illustrate a central principle of the landmark policy document Indian Control of Indian Education (1972), mainly that "[Indian] teachers . . . who have an intimate understanding of Indian traditions, psychology, way of life and language . . . are best able to create the learning environment suited to the habits and interests of the Indian child" (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972, as cited in Beynon, 2008, p. 11).


My book offers an appreciation and understanding of Haida culture and history of the Tsath Lanas Eagle clan through my stories and through my mother's authentic life history. I encourage other First Nations people to write their stories, through their personal experiences and eyewitness accounts, or write the stories of their Elders and grandparents. Volume VII of the En'owkin Journal of First North American Peoples, edited by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm and Jeannete Armstrong, entitled Gatherings wrote a strong message of encouragement to Indigenous writers to be proud of who they are and to continue to tell their stories. I agree with their sentiments, for I am a Haida woman and our Indigenous voices need to be heard. The following excerpts express this powerful statement:


"indigenous writers. this is the ground upon which we stand. we know this ground and this ground knows us. she recognizes our ancestors in you. she knows our genealogy. we carry this knowing. and so we will not be moved. we will not be muted. even if our stories are ignored. no matter how many times the maps have changed, the borders shifted, the lines drawn. we will not be moved.


indigenous writers this is the ground upon which we stand. this is the motherland. the gathering place. the place for remembering, for singing, for telling stories, for honoring the ones of our ancestors. this is why we stand firm. why we will not be moved. why our writing is resistance. and protest. our sacred places, our homelands, our memories are in our words.


indigenous writers. every mark on every page is a foot firmly planted. every story, every poem, every word given breath, is eternal. imprinted into eternity. like the moon in the night sky, enduring.


indigenous writers. this is our territory. this is indigenous land. where our values, our ways of speaking, our oral traditions, our languages, our philosophies, our concepts, our histories, our literary traditions, our aesthetics are expressed and accepted and honored each according to our nations. this is where we carve our stories into the memories of our people, we sing our songs our children will remember. it is to them we speak. it is for them we sing.


these are our stories, our songs, our words, spoken in our voices in our ways for our people." (Akiwenzie-Damm, 1996, pp. 1-2)


The greatest contributions to academia my book offers is a First Nations woman's perspective. As an insider, I know what it means to be born and raised as a Haida -- to live the life of a Haida. The culture, traditions and language that I learned are my culture and I want to share this vast knowledge with others, so others can gain an appreciation of our culture through my voice. Storytelling is a universal activity and may well be the oldest of the arts. It has always provided a vehicle for the expression of ideas, particularly in societies relying on oral traditions (Cruikshank, 1995, p. ix). When native peoples are allowed to speak of their history and their lives, it will be to tell the truth (Slapin and Seale, 1992, p. 13).


For many Native Americans, daily life was a process of learning with the ultimate purpose of preparing children to be functional members of their community (Tafoya, 1989, p. 40). The children learned their roles, their societal responsibilities, survival skills, artistic skills (such as carving and weaving), their histories, and tribal stories -- all of which they themselves would, after the completion of their apprenticeship, pass on as they became parents and elders themselves (Stairs, 1993, p. 87). The oral traditions, the most dominant cultural tradition among Native North American communities, instilled children with tribal histories and stories in both community dwelling places and natural settings. Much of the apprenticeship for the Haida, especially concerning survival skills, involved learning about their environment. Both boys and girls received most of their practical learning out in the open air, in the forests, on the beaches, and wherever they needed to be to learn a particular skill being taught (see Blackman, 1982; Friesen, Archibald, and Jack, 1992). Within this informal learning environment, the main "teachers" were usually family members, and the content had a functional purpose to ensure survival and to preserve the tribe's oral history through stories and songs (White, 2008, p. 5).


The greatest mentors I had were my grandparents and my mother. My first teacher was my grandmother, Amanda Edgars, whom we called Nonny. She started intentionally teaching me the Haida culture when I was twelve years old, shortly after our house burned down in Old Massett Village. Our family went to live with our grandparents and Nonny Amanda taught me through observation and practice. This was the beginning of my valuable tutelage under my grandmother. Throughout my teenage and adolescent years, I always made time to visit my grandmother and listen to her tell me stories of our history and culture. My grandmother's teaching is an example of the Mission Statement found in the National Indian Brotherhoods' 1972 treatise on Indian philosophy of education:


"We want education to provide the setting in which our children can develop the fundamental attitudes and values which have an honored place in Indian tradition and culture. The values which we want to pass on to our children, values which make our people a great race, are not written in any book. They are found in our history, in our legends and in the culture. We believe that if an Indian child is fully aware of the important Indian values he will have reason to be proud of our race and of himself as an Indian. We want the behavior of our children to be shaped by those values which are most esteemed in our culture. When our children come to school they have already developed certain attitudes and habits which are based on experiences in the family. School programs which are influenced by these values respect cultural priority and are an extension of the education which parents give children from their first years. These early lessons emphasize attitudes of self-reliance, respect for personal freedom, generosity, respect for nature and wisdom." (as cited in Kirkness, 1992, p. 28)


As Cajete (2000) put it: "education should also help you to find your heart, which is that passionate sense of self that motivates you and moves you along in life" (as cited in Beynon, 2008, p. 53).


The Haida people had a highly structured community before the Europeans arrived in North America. Education was central for all First Nations communities. The extended families shared the responsibilities for educating and guiding the children (see White, 2008). Jeannette Armstrong (1987) describes the traditional indigenous peoples' view of education as, "a natural process occurring during everyday activities . . . ensuring cultural continuity and survival of the mental, spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of the cultural unit and of its environment" (p. 14). The uncles of each family were the key teachers who guided and developed the talents of their nephews. Haida women were held in high esteem and the matriarchs of each family were the key advisors to the Chiefs. Elders were also knowledgeable about geography, subsistence, and important social values. This knowledge positioned them as respected healers, religious practitioners, historians, genealogists, and "cultural professors" (see Beynon, 2008; Sterling, 2002). My grandmother, the Late Amanda Edgars said the following: "The Haida people were powerful warriors, great protectors of the land, excellent canoe builders, and skilled and talented carvers. Each Haida Clan lived under the guidance of their Chiefs. Our people all knew which clan they belonged to, who their relatives were and what their Haida names were. They knew the stories of our people" (Edgars, personal communication, 1985).


Our Haida ancestors had a brilliant and sophisticated way of life before non-natives came to Haida Gwaii. Verna J. Kirkness's (1992) description of the traditional forms of education perfectly captures the elegance of this way of teaching:


"Long before Europeans arrived in North America, Indians had evolved their own form of education. It was an education in which the community and the natural environment were the classroom, and the land was seen as the mother of the people. Members of the community were the teachers, and each adult was responsible for ensuring that each child learned how to live a good life. The development of the whole person was emphasized through teachings which were often shared in storytelling." (p. 5)


Before contact with non-natives, First Nations and the Haida people's traditional education was linked with economics, the land, and survival. As a young girl, my grandmother taught me how to respect the land. She said: "The land is your survival. The sea will give you salmon, seaweed, clams, cockles, and many other sea foods. The trees will provide the roots for our people to weave the hats, baskets, and clothing. You have to watch, listen, and learn from the Elders to respect the land and take only enough to feed your family and share with others. When you take too much, you are not respecting the land or the food which it provides." (Edgars, 1985)


David Suzuki states the following: "North America, to the native people living here, is more than simply a place, a piece of turf. Land embodies culture, history, and the remains of distant ancestors. Land is the source of all life and the basis of identity. Land is sacred. An overriding sense in aboriginal perceptions is that of gratitude for nature's bounty and beauty. Gratitude and respect" (as cited in Henley, 1989, p. 11).


As a teacher, I believe when students are provided relevant stories, the art of storytelling and the ability to read can be used as a key strategy for First Nations and Haida children to gain respect for themselves and gain a sense of pride in their identity. As an educator, I believe a person is never too young or too old to learn. Everyday a person is able to learn something new by observation, listening, or reading. My husband attended Residential School. During the healing he needed after this experience, he found that learning from Elders and reading encouraging books helped him immeasurably. He states the following:


"Elders were a major influence in my healing process. They gave me advice and direction and helped me adjust to a more positive way of living. Uncle Herman Price, in particular, gave me many words of advice. He would always ask me how I was doing at the logging camp. I would tell him that I liked the job, but I was afraid of making mistakes. He said, "Making a mistake is what education is all about. From your mistakes you learn to never do it again and you can make improvements from your mistakes." The many years that I worked at the different logging camps gave me the time that I needed to do soul searching. My main source of education was obtained by reading. I avidly read newspapers and many books on self-improvement and religion." (A. Collison, 1993, p. 39)


Through transformation stories children learn traditional values such as humility, honesty, courage, kindness, and respect. On the Northwest Coast, each tribe has stories told of their legendary heroes. For example: Haida people and other First Nations people have stories about the Raven who was both a trickster and a creator. The Bear is the spiritual protector for the Tsath Lanas clan. Each clan has their own crests with special significance; the humming bird, which represents a sign of good luck to some clans, is another example of such symbols.


My grandmother has told me stories all my life, and she always gave me advice. No matter what else she told me, she always said the most important element is to listen. This oral tradition has always been one of the primary skills. We had to learn how to listen. Nonny said, "You have to 'listen' to what I am telling you. Don't let your emotions speak." One of the lessons I learned through my experience is the power of words. It all depends on how a person speaks to you and how you are able to use words in a positive or negative manner. In person to person interaction, indicators of the message include body language, facial expression, tone behind the words, and words themselves (Mussell, Nicholls, and Adler, 1991, p. 84).


Even in difficult circumstances, we often find the tools for change in the oppressive systems themselves. As Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998) put it: "while 'alien' voices may position us, they also provide us with tools to reshape our positions" (p. 45). In conversations, we may struggle with the positions others attempt to impose upon us. Afraid of being shot down by louder or more dominant voices, we may not say what we really think. In contrast, stories are a medium through which we may both select the positions we occupy and challenge the positions assigned to us by others. We can say what we think and feel, work out our ideas and concerns, and choose to share these if we wish. (Beynon, 2008, p. 22) It is not only through dialogue but also through story that we make sense of our own and other's lives: "In telling a fragment of his or her autobiography a speaker assigns parts and characters in the episodes described" (Davies and Harre, 1999, p. 3). During the past eighteen years of my teaching career in British Columbia, I experienced both positive and negative encounters. Majority of my teaching experiences are positive and rewarding. It was only during several difficult encounters that I experienced in my teaching career and life that I was inspired to write the poem called "Trails and Tribulations." Learning is a lifelong process and we all live and learn something new everyday.


Through my experiences, I have learned that sometimes silence is a sign of patience, courage, and endurance. There is a time to speak and there is a time to keep silent. Haidas and everyone else have to be strong to know when it is time to speak and when it is time to refrain. Nonny Amanda taught me how to listen, but she also taught me when to recognize when it is time to listen to Elders and learn, and not interrupt. I was taught that silence is golden. I was taught how to listen, when to speak and when to be silent. The art of listening and knowing when to speak or not speak is another skill that I continue to learn throughout my life. Many times I reflect back to my grandmother's words of wisdom and I am grateful that I listened to her wise words. I learned that silence is regarded as the importance of character and the art of listening is the central skill and object of education. The ability to listen well and to hear all is an important objective for many Haida people. As stated by Kirkness (1992): "Although there was little segregation of family for events, whether social or work-related, children were taught that there were times when they should be silent and allow the adults to speak without interruption. Silence was regarded as the cornerstone of character. As Chief Wabasha stated, 'Guard your tongue in youth and in age you may mature a thought that will be of service to your people. The fruits of silence are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity and reverence.'" (p. 8)


I believe it is important to observe that each First Nations has developed its protocol around stories and the art of storytelling. Two other Northwest Coast communities, the Tsimshian and Nisga'a have their own protocol, which I came to understand as a member of the First Nations Council for several years (now known as the Aboriginal Council). The Nisga'a have their own protocol. Former President of the Nisga'a Tribal Council Mr. Joseph Gosnell wrote about how many years it takes to make an adawx. When I taught First Nations Studies 11/12, I used this newspaper article as one example to compare the difference of how the Tsimshian and Nisga'a people write their stories. In a news article called "This adaawak took a century to compose," Mr. Gosnell (1996) explains one example of an adawx.


"I was struck by the story of the chieftains who, more than a century ago, pushed a 50-foot cedar canoe into the Nass River and paddled down the coast to Victoria's inner harbor. They went to petition the government of the day, led by Premier William Smithe, for an early settlement to the Nisga'a Land Question. But when they reached the capitol and climbed the steps of the parliament buildings and knocked on the door they were turned away. The Nisga'a were to be turned away many times more in the decades that followed.


At 8:27 a.m. Monday, a new ending was written to that long history of rejection and indifference when an agreement in principle was reached between the federal and B.C. governments and Nisga'a Tribal Council negotiators.


This crucial step towards the first modern treaty in British Columbia will have positive effects far beyond the Nisga'a people, in the form of certainty, a stable climate for investment, economic development and employment.


For the Nisga'a, this agreement is also significant in non-material ways; It is long-awaited acknowledgement of our dignity and our identity. It is recognition that the Nisga'a have rights to the territory our ancestors occupied and protected for thousands of years. It breathes meaning into the guarantees of protection for aboriginal and treaty rights contained in the Canadian Constitution. It is the chance to get on with our lives, and to fashion a future as full participants in Canadian society.


For all Canadians, it is an opportunity to close the book on an unflattering chapter in the development of this country. For many years we endured laws specifically designed to destroy our language and culture and to deny our very humanity.


Until 1961, we were denied the vote. We were denied the right to put forward any claim for our land, seized without treaty or surrender. We were placed on reserves -- the model for South Africa's abolished homelands under apartheid -- where we were denied the right to own land or raise capital for economic development. Our cultural practices, family structure and language were nearly destroyed by anti-potlatch laws and Indian residential schools. For a time, those native people who could obtain a boat to participate in the commercial fishery were banned by law from using a motor. Slowly the discriminatory laws have been dismantled, but the original injustice against the Nisga'a remained unaddressed until the 1970s, the federal government, prompted by the Calder case, and in 1990, the provincial government began negotiations.


Critics will inevitably attack this agreement; it is already happening. Some say the governments gave away too much. Some say the Nisga'a settled for too little. I know the road ahead is not easy. It will take great resolve by political leaders to maintain a sense of history in a climate of fear-mongering and misinformation.


Certainly we did not attain everything we sought. That is the way it is with negotiations, as opposed to other methods of handling conflict, such as lawsuits, civil disobedience or worse.


A generation of Nisga'a men and women has grown old at the negotiating table. Many more who sought a settlement, like the chieftains who voyaged to Victoria, died before they could see their dream realized.


But when the adaawx is told to future generations, perhaps a child somewhere will hear that the canoe returned to the Nass Valley, more than a century later, carrying justice for the Nisga'a and honor for us all." (p. A23)


First Nations people of the Northwest Coast have long standing oral traditions. In my opinion, Ovide Mercredi and Bill Wilson are the most outstanding First Nations leaders in Canada. I admire Bill Wilson because he is an extremely articulate, strong, and outspoken leader. He is an advocate for many First Nations people. One example of Bill Wilson's powerful statements is found in Asch's 1988 title, Home and Native Land. For Bill Wilson of the Native Council of Canada, the principle of original sovereignty is linked to the principle of liberation that motivated Canadian involvement in the Second World War. As he states (as cited in Asch, 1988): "When the German forces occupied France, did the French people believe they didn't own the country? I sincerely doubt that there was one French person in France during the war that ever had the belief that France belonged to Germany, which is why, of course, they struggled with our assistance to liberate their country and once again take it back for themselves." Later, he adds: "So what we say is we have title and that is why we are talking to you about aboriginal rights, but we are not talking English Common Law definitions... international law definitions that have been interpreted and re-interpreted and sometimes extinguished by conquest and ceding treaties and other agreements like that. We are talking about the feeling that is inside . . . all of us as Metis, Indian and Inuit people that this country belongs to us" (p. 124). Wilson further elaborates on this point: "My whole point [is] that we must stop viewing [aboriginal rights] from the point of view of the dominant society if we are ever going to understand what the Indian people, the Inuit people and the Metis want" (pp. 29-30). The first issue, then, is whether there is a means of understanding this concept from the native point of view.


Ovide Mercredi mentions the concept of repetition in the book called In The Rapids. The Haida people passed on their history through storytelling and the Elders continuously reiterate our history, names, territories, beliefs, culture, and traditions through oratory at the potlatch ceremonies. Sometimes the Elders repeated themselves many times. In my book, I often go over a story or advice given to me by our Elders. This is how we learn through constant repetition. In the introduction of In the Rapids, Mary Ellen Turpel and Ovide Mercredi (1993) state the following:


"For the First Nations people, history and spirituality are not written down in the sense of a book like the Bible -- they are said to be written on the hearts and passed along through storytelling, repetition and oratory. One thing most people realize almost instantly about First Nations leaders is that they are superb orators, especially when speaking in their own languages. These skills come naturally to First Nations peoples and we have many great speakers and leaders. In a reflection of the oral tradition -- a tradition passed down as the backbone of First Nations knowledge, discourse and sincerity -- many of the words in this book began as speeches." (pp. 10-11)


Mercredi has positive, powerful strength and I believe he is a dynamic effective Leader for the First Nations people. He states the following:


"We dream about a Canada in which our inherent right to govern ourselves is acknowledged. About a time when we can use our own political judgment, our own free will to shape our destinies and control our own affairs. We dream about healthy communities where children will be proud to say they are First Nations peoples. You see, this is what self-government of self-determination is about for our peoples. It is about self-respect, self-esteem and the future of our distinct cultures and identities. Self-determination is a basic human right." (Mercredi and Turpel, 1993)


Stories are the verbal history of the First Nations people. There are many different types of stories. Some stories are told about eyewitness accounts and testimonials. Each story may range from sacred to historical events to present day events. Each story teaches the social events of the Haida people and the political events and structure of the Hereditary Chiefs' roles. Each story teaches the traditional and cultural ways of the native way of life (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972). In my book, I tell family myths that explain our family history and stories about the sea animals and other creatures that change into human form. One example is how the Haida man who changed into a whale to provide food for his family. Another is how the Haida warrior put on the cloak of the bear to learn how to respect the bear. The bear taught the clan at Naden Harbour how to use the bear's medicine. In the teachers' guide The Queen Charlotte Islands Reading (Adams and Markowsky, 1985) series, Dawn Adams writes about two types of legends and beliefs:


"There were two types of legends. The first type known and told by everyone, explained how the world and its beings became as they are today. The second types were family myths that explained the origins of family crests and sometimes the family history. These myths accounted for the high standing of the family and its right to use certain names, crests, dances and possessions.


The Haida believed that the world was inhabited by supernatural beings far more powerful than humans. The highest of them all was "Power of the Shining Heavens" who gave power to all things. All creatures were divided into sea creatures, land creatures and air creatures. In each category the members were arranged hierarchically with Killer Whale being the chief of the sea. Bear being chief of the land and Eagle being chief of the sky.


Animals were thought to possess the same type of souls as humans and to live in villages just like the Haida people. They had their own territories, chiefs and social structures. There were Salmon-people, Herring-people, Raven-people, Eagle-people, Bear-people, Killer Whale-people and many more.


Many of these creatures were believed to be capable of changing into human form at will. In their villages they lived in human form; when they wished to appear in animal form they donned cloaks, masks or skins. These supernatural beings could take humans into their villages, marry them and help or harm them. They could also give themselves as food to humans and regenerate themselves and return to their villages, provided that all their bones were returned with grace and ceremony to the environment. Humans could gain power from the spirits and by putting on skins could become that creature.


A deep respect for the spirits of all living things pervaded the daily life and work of the Haida people. Not all animals were supernatural beings in disguise, but they were respected nevertheless for their natural grace, knowledge and life-giving potential. The Haida recognized that each animal had some ability superior of that of humans, be it speed, cunning, strength or endurance. Before taking a salmon from the water, or bark from a tree, a person would ask permission from its spirit by giving prayers and offerings.


The chief mythological character along the entire Northwest Coast was Raven. He had unlimited magical powers, an insatiable appetite and used all kinds of trickery in order to satisfy his greed. His inquisitive nature and constant bragging continually got him in trouble. He usually managed to get himself out of difficulty without any serious consequences, but while doing so, he altered various features of nature. In this way Raven created natural phenomena such as light, fire, tides and the great flood. He had to be treated with great respect because of his unpredictability.


These mythological and animal crest symbols embellished everything; totem poles, canoes, houses, paddles, bowls, masks, household objects and clothing." (p. 28)


Throughout my life, I have been told many different stories. Some stories are told as a personal life history experience similar to the story told by my mother. Some stories are told for fun. Some stories are owned by a specific clan, house or family while other stories are public domain. Stories have many different purposes. Stories teach children how to survive as human beings and teach them to learn how to respect themselves before they are able to respect others. They also teach children the traditional values of sharing, caring, compassion, and understanding. Often stories are told over and over. Each time the children hear the stories, they are able to derive new meaning. It is vital that all the children are taught who they are, where they come from, and which clan they belong to. Stories were told to teach me proper behavior. Often when I was a little girl, my parents and grandmother would see what I did wrong. They did not scorn me or punish me. Instead, my father or grandmother told me a story so I could avoid making mistakes and avoid certain problems. The stories gave me some answers and made me think about what I did. Often I implemented problem-solving skills to overcome the problems I encountered. However, many times as a young girl and as an adult I made mistakes, but I learned never to make the same mistake again.


When children did wrong, the first thing we did was to provide examples of their behavior and give the children an opportunity to make better choices. We use the power of storytelling to show the right way. If children were disobedient, rude to an Elder or doing things, which might be dangerous to themselves, then they would be told one or more lesson stories designed to show what happens to those who misbehave. I think it is no exaggeration to say that all American Indian stories, when used in the right context, can serve as lesson stories and as important tools of communication (Slapin and Seale, 1987, p. 94).


Nonny Amanda told me stories I did not understand. She often told me the same story over, which is a consistent pedagogy based on repetition theory. As I grew older, I derived different meanings from her stories as I became more mature. I made new meanings and realized that those stories have various applications and understandings. Julie Cruikshank (1995) describes the listener's integral role in making a story meaningful: "Storytelling does not occur in a vacuum. Storytellers need an audience, a response, in order to make the telling a worthwhile experience" (p. 16). Nonny Amanda told her whole family many stories when they were young children. My mother, Gertie White, remembers the process to be similar when Nonny told her stories. She said,


"I remember when mom used to tell me stories. Sometimes I didn't understand some of the stories, but now that I'm older and wiser, I think back to when mom used to tell us stories. Now I understand what she was talking about, maybe because I'm older and I have my own children and grandchildren. Sometimes it takes a long time to finally understand some of the stories or advice our parents gave to us. This is how we learn. We learn through our own experiences and then we are able to understand many things our parents told us when we were young." (White, personal communications, 2006)


I have retold the stories Nonny told me about the Haida Chief Who Built an Island, The Raven and the Moon, and the story of the Tow and Tow-Ustahsin. The familiar landmark of Tow Hill rises several hundred feet into the air from the sands of North Beach. Geologists call Tow a volcanic intrusion; the Haida say he has a brother up Masset Inlet with whom he quarreled and that is why he stands alone now at the eastern extremity of the Islands. (Blackman, 1982, p. 10) I have kept the context of these stories in the storyteller's character. The purpose for retelling these stories with characters is to utilize these stories in the classroom. I often add in the characters for students to use in readers' theatre or drama classes.


Although some of the stories convey beliefs that are frightening or even humorous, our Elders also told us stories from childhood that taught us powerful beliefs. Art Collison (1993) talks about one such powerful story that he learned from his parents:


"They encouraged me to maintain the Haida customs. One of the beliefs of the Haida is about the Sloogoo. An animal that has a very powerful mind which can actually change itself into human form to tempt or taunt you. When my mother told me about the Sloogoo, I went, on my own initiative, to conquer my fears. I was fourteen years old then. I went to Kumdus slough and camped by the water's edge. My main goal was to conquer my fears of the wilderness and to learn about survival, as this is very important in our culture. On this particular solo trip, I was anchored along the beach at Kumdus in Masset Inlet, and as I lay in silence, I could hear paddles dipping quietly into the water. My immediate thoughts were that they may be spirits of restless Haidas paddling along the seashore. But as I watched the shadowy figures approaching closer and closer, I was surprised to see Paul White, my future father-in-law, and Victor Thompson, both strong Haida men, who were out hunting. They asked me what I was doing and I told them that I was hunting and learning how to survive on my own." (p. 40)


All the stories I have written about were told to me by my grandmother and mother. These stories represent who I am as a Tsath Lanas Haida woman. In the story about button blankets, I write a brief history about the importance and significance of button blankets, and I describe how to make a button blanket for teachers to use in the classroom. Often when teaching a First Nations unit, I could not find complete resources to teach specific topics, so I have included a variety of activities to do when a teacher introduces the button blanket units to students. These activities are only one component or core unit of teaching a First Nations unit. It is essential that Canadian children of every racial origin have the opportunity during their school days to learn about the history, customs, and culture of this country's original inhabitants and first citizens. We propose that education authorities, especially those in Ministries of Education should provide for this in the curricula and texts that are chosen for use in Canadian schools. (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972, pp. 1-2)


When I was recording my mother's authentic stories, I would tape her every opportunity I could when she came to visit me in Prince Rupert. Her story is about her personal experiences of her life. I did not edit her story into Standard English because it is important to capture the essence of my mother's story in her own words. I used the Socratic Method to generate many different questions I wanted to ask my mother. This approach gives her the opportunity to think about the questions and compile her thoughts before I started taping her. When Cruikshank (1995) wrote life stories of three Yukon Native Elders, she noted that "often it was difficult for her to remember the name of a place until she actually saw it again, and naming those places had the mnemonic effect of recalling events that had occurred there" (p. 25). In the beginning, it would take mom a long time to think about specific details. She would confess she has too many different stories to tell and too many songs in her mind. She needed time to think about specific details.


I taped her for a period of two years including whenever I went home to Haida Gwaii. In parts of the story, she referred to the present day. One example is when she went to the hospital in Prince Rupert to check her broken ribs. I taped her story during that period of time and mom refers to that specific incident. I believe it is important to tell my mother's personal experiences because this is part of her legacy. My mother's life history is a testimony that is an important gift for my family and Haida people. Phillips (1973) states that "the life history is still the most cognitively rich and humanly understandable way of getting at an inner view of culture. [No other type of study] can equal the life history in demonstrating what the native himself considers to be important in his own experience and how he thinks and feels about that experience" (p. 201).


Everyday, I continue to learn from my grandmother and mother's testimony through their individual narratives and personal experiences. Ethel Dassow highlights the importance of keeping our culture alive:


"The myths and legends were told and retold at potlatches, less formal gatherings, as family pastimes, even as bedtime stories. But their entertainment value was secondary. Here, as elsewhere, the important function of myth and legend was to pass the knowledge of traditions, morals and mores from the old to the young, maintain social cohesion and continuity, keep the culture alive and flourishing. Even today, though these people have been literate for generations and have entered mainstream culture, they keep the art of storytelling alive." (as cited in Beck, 1989, p. ix)


My mother has reinforced and validated many of the stories told by her mother, the Late Amanda Edgars. In all the stories I have written about my grandmother, I have consistently consulted with my mother to clarify, approve, and proofread my stories. She is my most valuable resource and informant in providing me with detailed information and translation of songs from the Haida language into the English language. I have made a personal decision to print the Haida words just the way they sound from my point of view. I choose not to use the International Phonetic Alphabet for personal reasons.


In the story called "My Precious Children," I mention how my grandmother used devil's club to cure Kaakuns; however, I did not mention how to prepare the devil's club. This beautiful and powerful shrub, with its large leaves and spiny stalks, has numerous medicinal applications for the Haida as for most other First Nations whose territories fall within its range (Turner, 2004). In addition, however, and perhaps most importantly, it was used in both ancient and contemporary contexts for its role as a protective agent and a plant which is able to bestow power and strength to an individual who understands it and uses it with respect. There are many stories in which devil's club is portrayed as a supernatural power-giver. Turner adds that "perhaps because of the special protective properties of its sharp spines, devil's club is important for protection against evil and illness. Lengths of stem can be placed above a doorway or under one's mattress, or in the four corners of a room, to protect the members of a household and keep them safe" (pp. 62, 153).


The story about Kaakuns is only one example of how we use devil's club. I did not include the instructions to make the medicine because the Elders taught us how to respect the medicine, and they do not want this medicine or other medicinal herbs we use to be exploited or used in an inappropriate way. Traditional medicines have been used by the Haida under strictly controlled conditions and administered by skilled practitioners having the knowledge and experience of many generations behind them. The context in which such medicines are taken can be a critical factor: diet, lifestyle, and physical and mental condition all affect the ways in which people respond to applications of medicine. Spiritual relationships of Haida with plants, including medicinal applications, are private knowledge and therefore the details of this aspect of Haida ethnobotany are not presented here. Each individual has her or his own particular connection with nature. It is important for all of us to understand that this relationship exists and that it has a profound influence on the way traditionally trained Haida perceive their lands, but equally important to respect its sacredness and essentially private nature. (Turner, 2004, pp. 21, 72)


There are several different ways to spell our clan name. In my book I spell our clan name Tsath Lanas. Another way to spell our clan name is T'sath 7laanaas or Jath- lon-us. I have used a few Haida vocabulary in my book; therefore, I have also included a glossary. The intricate detailed illustrations of all the Haida designs are drawn by my brother Paul White Jr. He has an incredible collection of all his silk screens and he agreed to let me use his art work in my book. The illustrations demonstrate his talented gift as a Haida artist.


There is some repetition in my mother's personal story and "The Greatest Mentor in My Life, My Dear Precious Grandmother." When there is repetition in these stories, it reinforces how the stories have been passed down from each generation to generation. I first published the story of my grandmother in the book called Gatherings, Volume VII, the En'owkin Journal of First North American Peoples. In this book, I have added more details and information to this specific story.


Through the art of storytelling, I was able to build links to our culture and to our past history. My goal has always been to record the stories told to me by my grandmother and to publish these stories in her honor. This book of treasurers contains three generations of stories by my grandmother, my mother, and I. It is important to note there have been some people that have passed away during the time my mother was recording her stories for me. I relay my personal condolences to the families. My mother mentioned their names in the utmost respect.


This book is a labor of love and I want to share these stories with the Tsath Lanas Eagle Clan, First Nations people, educators, non-native people, and my family. As an educator, I know the teachers, parents, and children will use the wonderful art of storytelling in their daily teaching and learning to motivate the children to be better readers and gain pride in their identity as First Nations children. I am confident that through this method of storytelling and reading, the First Nations children will become self-motivated to learn their language and culture. My hope is that this book will create a better understanding and appreciation of Haida heritage through the art of storytelling.

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