February 17, 2021

Stand Like a Cedar

Written by Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by Carrielynn Victor
HighWater Press
40 pp.
Ages 6-9
February 2021 
Let's take a walk, a canoe ride and more with these children of the Pacific Northwest as they honour their ancestors and show respect for the land and its living things. With occasional words in Halq’emeylem and Nłeʔkepmxcín (an extensive glossary is provided), two languages of the Coastal and Interior Salish, Nicola I. Campbell invites us all to join them to understand the importance of sustainability and gratitude as they experience life through the seasons.
From Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illus. by Carrielynn Victor
Stand Like a Cedar begins in the spring with a canoe ride in the rain, accompanied by ísweł (the loon).  Spring is also the time to forage for shoots and roots with the child's Yéye (grandmother) but summer arrives, warming the earth (tmíxw) and bringing out a snake (sméyxł) to sun. With late summer comes berry picking in alpine areas, fishing and hiking with the telling of stories.
We listened as our elders shared a song about our ancestors
when they traveled by horse and wagon,
and before that by travois and on moccasin-covered foot,
in search of traditional foods to nourish our families.
From Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illus. by Carrielynn Victor
Autumn brings hunting, handled delicately and solemnly.
Grandfather smíyc (deer) visited us. His summer coat was turning greyish-brown.
He shared a story about his descendants and family.
He explained that death is part of our life cycle.
He said to honour our tears as though they were stars in the sky.
He reminded us to take care of the land.
Winter arrives and the bears go into hibernation and the raven and eagle dance in the sky. With each endeavour, the children and their caregivers show gratitude: for the land, for the animals, for their ancestors, for all life.
From Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illus. by Carrielynn Victor
Nicola I. Campbell., a Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis author whose book Shin-chi's Canoe won the 2009 TD Canadian Children’s literature award and the 2008 Governor General's Award for Illustration, imbues her words with the gravitas of life in the natural world of the Pacific Northwest. There is a sense of dignity and solemnity in seasonal activities of berry picking and fishing, canoeing and hiking, with a recognition of the history of those who came before and those who tell the stories and teach. Her words are transportive to place and times both past and present.
Five kinds of salmon came to visit us.
They shared a story of when our great river was clean.
We could walk on the backs of a million spawning salmon.
Our nets were always full and our children never hungry.
But it's Nicola I. Campbell's final words that are most soulful, filled with gratitude and tribute.
We are Indigenous.
We love to run, paddle our canoes, dance, and play.
When we need to remember our promises,
we stand like cedar trees
hands raised to the sky.
Stó:lō artist Carrielynn Victor may illustrate Nicola I. Campbell's words, as an illustrator is directed to do, but her sense of place and atmosphere add more story. Read between the lines to see the joy of a child running up a trail, or a blueberry-covered face or a boy proud of his catch. There's the cool rain as the group canoes, the overcast skies and brilliant sunrises, and–look closely–the spirits of deer long gone but always honoured. Carrielynn Victor's art which is primarily digitally created gives us more, enlightening and celebrating too.
From Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illus. by Carrielynn Victor
Stand Like a Cedar is a strong song of peoples and place. It's emotive and instructive and begs us all to be attentive to how we interact with the land and its life. Gratitude should be the default, not the afterthought.

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