Growing up in the strong matrilineal society of the Gitxsan, Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D.Huson) developed a passion for the culture, land, and politics of his people, and a desire to share their knowledge and stories.
In celebration of Earth Day on April 22, we spoke with this award-winning author and educator. In our interview with Brett, he answers questions about the Mothers of Xsan series and its connection to environment, sustainability, and the Gitxsan Nation, as well as his upcoming release The Eagle Mother.
The Mothers of Xsan series is an incredible resource for science teachers, touching on important topics like environmentalism and sustainability. What are some of the most important takeaways from the series?
The Mothers of Xsan series is a part of a larger vision of mine that I’ve been developing for some time. I have always had a deep interest in scientific studies as they have been incredible with regard to bridging the gap between the world and our understanding of the finer moving parts of life. Regardless of where we are with our comprehension of the world, whether it be in microbiology, physics, medicine, or mathematics, scientific study still lacks much of the “bigger picture.” My goal is to connect Indigenous knowledges with science because Indigenous peoples have existed in equilibrium with their ecosystems for thousands of years longer than any sort of modern practice of science has existed.
I hope that through my work, people can begin to see the importance of preserving knowledges that have kept civilizations healthy and thriving for well over 15,000 years in specific locations that, over time, have gone through climate and ecological change. Studies, like those being done at the University of British Columbia, are proving the validity of Indigenous knowledges in preserving and even creating more biodiverse and healthy environments.
This series of books for children is meant to present the idea of interconnectedness of all life to the land, in a way that hopefully will encourage young minds to approach their world in a different way in the future. To understand that all living things are important and needed for balance in our world.
You won the 2018 Science Writers and Communicators of Canada Youth Book Award for The Sockeye Mother. At the time, you said it meant a lot to you because of your love for science. Where did your passion and interest for these topics come from?
Many evenings as a child were spent visiting my mom’s parents. From a young age, I was exposed to endless viewings of National Geographic videos, Discovery Channel, and discussions between my ye’eh (grandfather) and my nigwotxw (father) about the land and use of the land. My dad always had a strong passion in discovering how everything worked, biologically, mechanically, mathematically, and physically. I guess a lot of that passion passed along to me.
My people, the Gitxsan, have always had a philosophical approach to life and worked toward understanding everything about our ecosystems because it meant the survival of the land and our people many generations into the future. We were removed from this way of life when the first Christians came to our lands and began to remove us from the land and place us on reserves and the children in residential schools.
You grew up in the Gitxsan Nation of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia. How has being a member of the Gitxsan Nation influenced your work as an author and an educator?
The Gitxsan Nation exists in a land that is unforgiving and very unique. We have lived on our territories since time immemorial and developed language, art, agriculture, aquaculture, and governance. Basically, it is a way of life that allows us to thrive. So being Gitxsan is who I am, and we have always viewed ourselves as Gitxsan first and foremost. We are matrilineal, so our rights, privileges, and names within our culture come from our mothers. So, everything that I am is what my work is. I hope to instill a love for the land in young readers that will stay with them as they grow up. Hopefully, they can see the world the way that I see mine.
In previous interviews, you have said “our language was shaped by the land, our artwork is shaped by the land, and everything we do and everything that we are comes from [the] earth.” Can you elaborate on this statement?
Part of what is disconnecting humanity from seeing how unbalanced our ecosystems are right now is the simple fact that more and more populations of people are moving to urban centres. Urbanism has created a unique pocket of life outside of a working and operating ecosystem, yet those ecosystems are still providing water and oxygen to the urban dwellers. Experiences are the things that lead to greater knowledge of the unknown, but unfortunately, we are continually removing ourselves from the very thing that keeps us alive.
Gitxsan culture comes from thousands of years of experience on the land that is our home. Great moments of change, catastrophe, and wonderment that happened on those lands became moments to commemorate and create new words for. New works of art grew from our growing understanding of what allowed us to live. The whole nature of the words we developed were basic, because they only needed to describe the necessities of life.
Ceremony wasn’t about celebrating “man” or “deities,” but more about asking for life, creating more positive energy to exist in our environment, and helping our energy to stay healthy so our bodies could heal themselves. In our understanding, our energy that came from the sun did a lot to help us. The first Christians who were the ones to translate our language and stories turned them into mystical stories and called our energy “spirit.” But nomenclature doesn’t matter, what matters is that our cultures have an understanding of what made our whole existence. Energy.
Each story in this series gives insight into a different area and/or animal in the Xsan ecosystem. What can readers expect from your upcoming book, The Eagle Mother?
The Eagle Mother is a window into a small part of the world of the eagle, the Gitxsan relation to the Eagle, and a little bit about the role the eagle plays in this environment. I hope that young readers will grow to love and understand this beautiful bird a lot more. My kids absolutely love the story and the beautiful imagery created by my partner in these stories (who I could not do them without), Natasha Donovan.
I’m excited to get more fan mail from the students and people who create their own artwork of The Eagle Mother!
Pre-order The Eagle Mother on our website today!