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Language, Land, and Sustainability: An interview with Nicola I. Campbell and Carrielynn Victor

Language, Land, and Sustainability: An interview with Nicola I. Campbell and Carrielynn Victor

By Press Staff | Date: May 06, 2021

Described by The Globe and Mail as an “evocative book that poetically explores how important it is for us to see ourselves as part of the land,” Stand Like a Cedar takes readers on a journey in the natural landscapes of British Columbia. Through their work, author Nicola I. Campbell and illustrator Carrielynn Victor share lessons about environmental stewardship and Indigenous worldviews, weaving together lyrical prose and breathtaking art to bring the land to life.

In the interview below, Nicola and Carrielynn discuss what it means to “stand like a cedar,” and how this book connects to sustainability, activism through retreating to nature, and the importance of Indigenous languages.  

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Nicola I. Campbell is the author of Shi-shi-etkoShin-chi’s CanoeGrandpa’s Girls, and A Day with Yayah. Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis, from British Columbia, her stories weave cultural and land-based teachings that focus on respect, endurance, healing, and reciprocity.

A finalist for numerous children’s literary awards, Nicola’s book Shin-chi’s Canoe won the 2009 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the 2008 Governor General’s Literary Award for illustration.

What do you hope young readers will take away from reading Stand Like a Cedar?

Nicola: There are multiple elements within this story. A reciprocal, reverential respect for all things. It touches on the importance of fitness and overall well-being, family, time on the land, and traditional food sources, as well as the timeless relationship Indigenous people have with stewardship and traditional forms of resource management involving waterways, lands, and resources. 

For example, traditional Indigenous stewardship practices monitored waterways and ensured that Indigenous people in British Columbia never went hungry; they always had access to the salmon run. They had many ways of harvesting and preservation and this shows. The saddest truth to this story is that poor management of the Fraser River and salmon waterways that were always plentiful has left salmon stocks destroyed. It is important to pause and reflect on this fact because of how many hundreds of generations of Indigenous people have always lived on and still rely on salmon to provide for their families and children. Salmon was the first food for both my children.

  • What does it mean to you to “stand like a cedar”?

Nicola: It means, O’ siyam. Hands raised to the sky, to give thanks, to have heartfelt love, honour, respect, and reverence for all living things: the ones that walk, the ones that fly, and the ones that swim, as well as trees and plants. 

  • The natural world is beautifully illustrated in Stand Like a Cedar. What is your favourite part of Carrielynn’s representation of your story?

Nicola: Carrielynn’s creative work represents a deep, intricate and dynamic relationship with the land, the ancestors, that spans generations. It is not just what you see, a physical line or image on a page, it is a connection to the spirit of our ancestors. 

  • Why was it important for you to weave the Nłe7kepmxcín and Halq’emeylem (Interior and Coastal Salish) languages into Stand Like a Cedar?  

Nicola: If I could have, I would have included a lot more. I would have had both languages on the page. I would challenge all publishers. I would challenge this publisher, to push harder, to use more Indigenous languages. To push the parameters. To challenge the colonial paradigm that english and french always have overarching control of our voices. Especially as Indigenous people. 

We are in a collective state of grief about the loss of our languages and the more we continue to fit with the oppressive box that these colonial languages and society has placed on our work, the less focus and life we breathe into our own languages. It is so frustrating to always be limited by what english-speaking society will accept as legitimate work by Indigenous people. For too many years, our creative work has been minimized, our languages devalued. We have to find ways to turn more to our languages and less to english control of our use of our languages within our creative work. 

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Carrielynn Victor is fueled by the passion to tell stories through her art. Her ancestors come from around the world, descending from bloodlines in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales that arrived in the Americas in the 1600s, and Coast Salish ancestors that have been sustained by S’olh Temexw (our land) since time immemorial. Carrielynn was born and raised in S’olh Temexw and nurtured by many parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Along with a thriving art practice, Carrielynn maintains a communal role as a plant practitioner. The responsibilities for traditional plant practitioners range from protection and preservation of lands, networking and trade, and harvest and preparation methods.

In an interview for your first solo exhibition Poison, Pattern, and Paradigm, you spoke of your art being a form of activism. How do you feel that Stand Like a Cedar relates to activism?

Carrielynn: Images in Stand Like a Cedar feature people in relationship with the natural world. When our bare feet are on the ground, and our head is in the clouds, we are healing. 

In a world that demands we keep up with the latest trends and technology, activism can be retreating to nature. Activism is more than using our words, or standing up on the front lines; activism is continuance of culture, cleaning up and restoring waterways, and teaching children about land-based values as well.

  • Going forward, what other mediums would you like to explore?

Carrielynn: I would love to explore sculpture, in bronze, glass, and wood. 

  • How have you connected your role as a plant practitioner with this project?

Carrielynn: This project allowed me to bring the colours of each season alive, picturing the landscape around myself from memories of moments on the land, while harvesting. Imagining grandchildren and grandparents together, and the many teachable moments that came through in Nicola’s writing; we worked together to ensure those moments were representative of life experiences we’ve had.

Stand Like a Cedar is available for purchase here.

Pre-order a copy of the teacher’s guide here.

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Also by the author
SpílǝxmA Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence

Through vivid short stories and rich poetry, Nicola I. Campbell deftly weaves an extraordinary memoir about what it means to be an intergenerational survivor of Indian Residential Schools. 

Pre-order a copy here.