The first bilingual children’s book written in Sm’algyax and Engish was released last month.
Dozens of people came to Coast Mountain College on Dec. 16 to celebrate the book release of Wii Amap’asm Hana’ax (Sleeping Beauty Mountain) as told by the late Ts’meyen matriarch Mildred Roberts.
The book originated from a song and story that was created by Roberts, an elder from Kistumkalum, to try to preserve her traditional language. The story features the noticeable Sleeping Beauty Mountain slumbering majestically in the landscape of the Kitsumkalum First Nation and Terrace, guiding the reader on a journey through the four different seasons.
“We’ve had a really good response… I think this book fills a gap because there aren’t any other completely bilingual children books that have local Indigenous knowledge in them,” says co-author and music advisor Anne Hill. “It’s always enriching when you are welcomed into someone else’s culture.”
Hill says she met Roberts in 2010 when she began working on her thesis about incorporating Tsimshiam culture into a local public school music program in an appropriate way. Immediately, they became good friends and Roberts began to tell stories from her childhood about the land.
With Roberts’ permission, Hill eagerly began writing down some of her stories as they shared a vision of wanting to introduce them into classrooms in various forms.
“Mildred was just so prolific, she kept coming up with these creative ideas and I was teaching at the time so it was very difficult to find material that was okay to use as a non-Indigenous teacher that had Indigenous knowledge and language in it,” says Hill.
“She had an encyclopedic memory, she could probably tell you her entire life story with detail from the time she was three years old, including all the songs and stories that her grandmother taught her.”
Hill says the creation of the book included many people to make it happen. After Roberts passed, it took two years to process her death as Hill was also dealing with her husband’s battle with cancer at the time.
She would speak about the idea of the book often to creative advisor Marian Kotowich-Laval and it wasn’t until Kitsumkalum communications coordinator Heather Bohn secured provincial funding that the project moved forward.
Within a few months, they gathered a team that included Kitsumkalum translators, plus graphic illustrator and Roberts’ granddaughter-in-law Frances Campbell.
“All the artwork was created this past year, it took so many shapes and forms as there were so many ideas from everyone on how it would look,” says Campbell. “I was looking at so many pictures of the mountain. They wanted First Nations form line in there and my style is very contemporary so I just mixed everything together and saw this vision for it.”
Campbell says their book’s main visual inspiration came from local photographer Jeanine Philippe of Adventures in My Trusty Boots, who freely allowed them to use her images as templates for the illustrations.
”I started with the cover and that changed so many times until I just saw a photograph with wild roses that [Phillips] took and that just fit in so perfectly,” she says. “And then I read the story and song to put the illustrations together based on her words.”
For Campbell, being part of the project meant a lot as she was not only able to help revitalize her language but it was a chance to fulfill Roberts’ vision.
“She would have loved this all, she was all about sharing stories,” she says. “Now kids can learn about their culture, which is what grandma Mildred always wanted.”