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The Power of Intergenerational Stories: An Interview With Sara Florence Davidson

The Power of Intergenerational Stories: An Interview With Sara Florence Davidson

By Teresa Johnson | Date: January 28, 2022

Published in the fall of 2021, Jigging for Halibut With Tsinii and Learning to Carve Argillite are the first two books in the Sḵ’ad’a Stories Series. Written by Sara Florence Davidson and her father, Haida Artist Robert Davidson, these illustrated books for children bring intergenerational learning to life through the art of Janine Gibbons. Readers follow along as Haida children learn important life lessons from their Elders through real-life situations, cultural traditions, and experiences out on the land. 

The series also provides tangible examples of the Sḵ’ad’a principles of learning. Sara and Robert introduced these principles in their book for educators, Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony, which presents a model for learning that is holistic, relational, practical, and continuous.

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In the interview below, Sara reflects on the inspirations for the Sḵ’ad’a stories and the significance of passing knowledge from one generation to the next. 

1. The first two stories in the Sḵ’ad’a Stories series relate the experiences of your father growing up. Why did you choose to focus on his experiences?

Sara: The first story, Jigging for Halibut With Tsinii, is the picture book I wanted to write the moment I first heard it. It is such a rich story, and it illustrates so many aspects of Indigenous pedagogies and specifically the Sḵ’ad’a principles. Before Potlatch as Pedagogy was published, I often shared this story to illustrate the principles embedded within a learning experience. When I was invited to write four stories, I had to think about the stories I wanted to include. 

I am not sure how the idea came to me, but I realized I had an opportunity to follow my father’s learning experiences from stories about him learning to stories about him teaching what he had learned. The learning stories he shared with me connect to the land, Haida culture, and art. I selected the stories based on the ideas that came to me after this realization. My father shared both stories with me as we worked together on Potlatch as Pedagogy

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2. Jigging for Halibut With Tsinii is a personal favourite, as it reminds me of fishing with my father and grandpa growing up. How did you bring that feeling of authenticity to the book?

Sara: As with all the stories, this one is based on extensive interviews with my father. It was very important that the stories be accurate, and so I worked to embed the information he shared with me into a readable story. My father carefully reviewed my writing to be sure it reflected his experience. I also drew on my own memories of fishing as a child to answer questions that emerged as I was writing. For example, this story is connected to the tide, so timing is very important. My father was incredibly patient with all my phone calls and texts and questions to ensure the information in the story is accurate and described in the way he remembers it.

3. Your father is well-known for his wood carving, painting, jewellery, and metal sculptures. Why is it important for you to share the story in Learning to Carve Argillite?

Sara: Very few people know that my father learned to carve from his father and grandfather. The work he later did with Bill Reid is much better known. My father attributes so much of who he is today and the work that he does to his family and the Elders from the community. It is important for me to share this story to ensure that the teachings from his father and grandfather are not lost. 

Though it is a quieter story, it is also a powerful teaching story that describes a lesser-known way of teaching. I wanted to share this story because it provides insights into these different approaches to teaching and learning. I love the idea of collaborating to create something together as the learning takes place. Now, as I work with my father, I experience the benefits of this first-hand.

4. As an educator, what do you hope readers take away from this series?

Sara: I hope that Haida readers see themselves and their own intergenerational learning experiences in these stories. I hope that Indigenous readers from other Nations find connections to their own relationships with land, art, and ceremony. I hope that non-Indigenous readers expand their perspectives about Indigenous peoples and our stories. I hope they recognize that we have lives that extend beyond what they may have seen and heard through mainstream media sources. I hope that non-Indigenous educators experience (perhaps vicariously) Indigenous pedagogies and intergenerational learning in ways that transform their teaching practices for the better. I also hope they experience the powerful impact of learning through stories. 

5. Janine Gibbons is the illustrator for these books. What struck you the most about the images when you first saw them?

Sara: We chose Janine to be the illustrator because of her commitment  to capturing  the stories’ connections to the land and her ability to paint Haida art. She is also of Haida ancestry, which means that she understands the cultural and family significance of these stories which is reflected in her illustrations. What struck me the most is Janine’s dedication to researching and integrating personal details into the images that really brings the stories to life. It is also tremendously important that the images reflect the traditional territory of the Haida. Because of her personal connections to this land, Janine illustrations transport readers to the places where the stories take place.

6. Without giving anything away, what do we have to look forward to for the rest of the Sḵ’ad’a Stories series?

Sara: The next two stories are told from my perspective. They reflect my own learning stories, which were largely influenced by my father. The third book, Returning to the Yakoun River, is about my brother and the springs we spent on the Yakoun River where our family fished for sockeye. The fourth book, Dancing With Our Ancestors, is about a potlatch that my father and stepmother hosted in Hydaburg, Alaska in 2018. It was also the last time my brother and I danced together before he died in 2020. 

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Order the books in the Sḵ’ad’a Stories series for your classroom today, using the links below:

Jigging for Halibut With Tsinii (available now)

Learning to Carve Argillite (available now)

Teacher Guide for the Sḵ’ad’a Stories Series (eBook (.pdf) available now)

Returning to the Yakoun River (pre-order for September 2022)

Dancing With Our Ancestors (pre-order for September 2022)

 

*****Contributors

Serge Desrosiers

Aakanksha Gupta