A group of writers and artists are trying to bring the stories of the Wet’suwet’en back to children in the Bulkley Valley.
The Kyahwiget Education Society recently commissioned local illustrators and editors to bring to life two stories that have been handed down through the generations, as well as three educational books.
Diane Mattson, administrator with the society, spearheaded the project and helped get funding from the First Nations Education Steering Committee to write, illustrate and publish five books for students.
“Being Wet’suwet’en is a really positive thing and I think that that affirmation of the positiveness of the culture is really important for children to have,” said Mattson. “I think these books are an affirmation of the power of the culture that is here.”
Editors Dolores Alfred and Amanda Lewis took roughly six weeks to complete the books starting in July.
They are written in Wet’suwet’en with the English translations directly below.
One of the stories called the Pink and Sockeye Salmon is a tale about bullying and was told many times in Sue Alfred’s family.
“It’s our story, it’s been handed down from generation to generation. She held on to the story for a long time and she thought about the children so she decided that it was time to let it go and share it with everyone,” said Dolores Alfred, the editor and Sue’s daughter.
Charrine Naziel-Lace, the illustrator of the book, said she felt a personal connection with the characters.
“I tried to image how I would feel and how I felt when I was being bullied and how I felt when I was looking at someone who was being bullied and how I would react to help stop it,” said Naziel-Lace.
“Using my imagination I thought ‘how would the salmon look as they were going through this’ and that’s how I illustrated it.”
The illustrations are a colourful mix of northwest coast and contemporary style, she added.
One of the other stories, The Spider and the Children, is about a spider protecting children from ants.
The tale came from Ron Austin’s grandmother and was illustrated by Carmen Austin.
“It’s a tradition that I grew up with — every winter when I was a child we would sit around the stove and grandparents would start telling fables,” said Ron Austin.
Austin believes the stories will be excellent educational tools to teach students about the language and culture.
“It’s an ecological story. Every creature has its purpose in life and one of our traditions is we respect every creature. I think our children need our language, it’s all written in our language. It’s a tool that we can use to teach our children,” he said.
The other educational books, are called Dï Ndu Da At’diwh? or What is This?, Des Dowh?, What am I doing?, and Witsiy’, Weather and introduces students to basic Wet’suwet’en language.
More children’s books are already in the works for all age levels, added Mattson.
The books can be purchased from the school and the Moricetown gas station and can be found at the Smithers Public Library.
All the proceeds go back into making more books for the community, said Mattson.