B.C. author hopes to brighten Indigenous narratives

Nicola Campbell's new book, A Day With Yayah, recounts a childhood memory of her aunt Ethel who was a venerated elder in her community.

Nicola Campbell's new book, A Day With Yayah, launches Thursday

Campbell's new book, A Day with Yayah, recounts a childhood memory of her aunt Ethel. (Nicola Campbell / Facebook)

A long-time children's author says its time for First Nation's stories to focus on empowerment, rather than tragedy.

"We need to show the other stories that are happening, we need to show ourselves as empowered, we need to break that trail," said Nicola Campbell, a B.C. author who is half Métis and half Interior Salish.

When Campbell was growing up, she read the books of her prolific aunt, writer Maria Campbell. Two of the stories she read, Halfbreed and Little Badger and The Fire Spirit fuelled a life-long interest in First Nations' oral traditions and history.

A Day With Yayah

That interest led her to write four books for children and young people, including Shi-shi-etko and its sequel Shin-Chi's Canoe

On Thursday, Nicola Campbell will launch her newest work, A Day With Yayah.

The picture book, illustrated by Julie Flett, is based on Campbell's memory of another of her aunts, Ethel.

Ethel didn't attend residential school, and she retained her knowledge of many traditional Salish practices including medicine making, hide tanning and food preparation.

Because of that knowledge, Campbell said Ethel would be called on to cook and babysit by many people in her community. The story, A Day With Yayah, is about an adventure Ethel took Nicola and her friends on when they were children.

"This is our story, these are our memories about running around," said Campbell during CBC's North by Northwest

'This is who we are'

She said too often the narratives of Indigenous peoples are coloured with sadness, violence and addiction.

"Looking at our future generations ... what are the stories we're sustaining?" said Campbell. She said if the only First Nation stories being told are ones of tragedy, it shapes a future without hope for coming generations.

"It's the only story being told and that's problematic," said Campbell. "Because this is what we're telling our children, this is who we are, that we're a people living in despair and there's no way out." 

Campbell said she wants to use her position as an author to continue the work of her two aunts and teach future generations to overcome the adversity faced by many Indigenous people.

A Day With Yayah launches Dec. 7 at the Native Education College in Vancouver. 

With files from North by Northwest