Sunday, 31 January 2016

Tribal Journey's ~ Journey to Tulalip, WA ~ a few years ago

I was paddling with the host community in the Spirit of the Elwha Canoe at Port Angeles, Wa. Spirit of the Elwha was a beautiful, cedar ocean going canoe. We were trying to exit the mouth of the Lower Elwha River. About thirty or so ocean canoes had just arrived from Neah Bay and some canoes had journeyed from the West Coast of Vancouver Island. They paddled clear across the open ocean to Elwha, which is apparently only about 35 miles. We had gale winds that day and our canoe was fully loaded with paddlers. Most were from Lower Elwha, some rookies, some experienced paddlers with Tribal Journey's. This was my first Tribal Journey and my first time in an ocean going canoe although I had about 12 years experience paddling race canoes. As the host community, protocol required that the Elwha welcome the canoes to land on shore as everyone was to camp before moving on to the next destination. In a couple days, we would journey on towards Suquamish and then the final destination, Tulalip, WA. 

Well, we were trying to time our exit of the river just right, between waves. As I learned that day, apparently the big rolling waves normally come in sets of about seven and then there is generally a slight lull in between sets. Trusting that, we should have been able to exit the river safely. However, because of the gale winds the waves were irregular and because we were situated at the mouth of the Elwha, the waves were huge. We had several failed attempts already and there was easily about 20+ canoes out in the bay waiting for protocol. We had to get them all into shore safely as quickly as possible.  

All of a sudden our skipper hollered "Go!" and we all hit the water  with our paddles. Paddling as hard as we could trying to exit the river when all of a sudden one rather spectacular wave lifted the enormous canoe straight up into the air. All I could see was the bow of the canoe surrounded by blue sky. Suddenly, white water crashed over the bow and over our heads and that’s when everyone started screaming. 

When I looked at our skipper (who was seated at the bow) to see his response, he was totally calm. His face stoic against a backdrop of white foam, raging salt water, cedar and brilliant blue sky. In that split second I thought about my own Stó:lō coach back home at Cultus Lake. He always reminded us the importance of staying calm on the canoe. We are never to freak out during a war canoe race no matter what goes down and things can get pretty crazy on the water. So, I kept my silence as well. When we came back down we were up to our shoulders in ocean foam. A couple kickers and braces were broken, hats, sandals and water bottles were floating about. A couple of the paddlers from the bow of the canoe were even sitting on the lap of their fellow paddler in the seats behind them. 

The previous joviality of the crew had disintegrated. Everyone was shaking. It was decided that the conditions were not safe and we had to exit the canoe. Picture a brilliantly sunny day with gale winds on the ocean. We were all drenched and the salty ocean water was already trying to crystallize on our skin. Moments later the first brave soul jumped off the canoe into the water, then another immediately after. Everyone, myself included, expected to see him disappear into deep water and then swim to shore. But instead, he landed abruptly with the white water below his knees. Ahhhh.... Despite the initial panic of the moment we all laughed at the random hilarity of the shallow water.

After that, it was decided that the visiting nations who were waiting in canoes out in the Bay should come land on shore for protocol as we couldn't exit the river safely in order to do the welcoming. The wind and the waves were too intense. Alot of canoes tipped that day. Thank goodness no one was hurt. Everyone was thankful for the quick action of all the support boats.  

I am so grateful for this experience and for my wonderful memories of the canoe journey.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Written for the "Circle of Success" program. “Indigenous Studies 104: Introduction to Indigenous Higher Learning” course at the First Nations University of Canada.

Note that this is a draft.


My name is Nicola Campbell, I am of Interior Salish (Nle7kepmx - Thompson, and Syilx - Okanagan) ancestry on my mother’s side. I am named after my home and where I grew up, which is the Nicola Valley, British Columbia. My dad, John Campbell, was Métis from Saskatchewan. My dad drowned during the Batoche Days Celebrations in 1973 after saving several children from drowning. He was a younger brother to the award-winning author, respected elder and activist, Maria Campbell. My aunt Maria is one of my greatest inspirations as an author and has inspired me to write since I was a child. I have two children, my son Myles is seven years old. Our baby girl is named after my aunt Maria and her great-grandmother's on both sides, her name is Mariah Celestine.

It is difficult to tell you a single element of my heritage that I value the most. Being Aboriginal is truly a beautiful gift from the Creator. It is not an easy path for sure, but it is one that is filled with so many blessings that no other culture can claim. Our multifaceted relationships with our land and traditional territories including the water; our cultural and spiritual practices and ceremonies; our healthy relationships with family and loved ones and our history are all elements of what I value and what inspires me as a writer and as a human being. I love gathering our traditional foods, plants and berries. I love participating and helping to prepare for our feasts whether it is for ceremony or sorrow, I love standing beside my elders and aunties learning and assisting them in which ever way I can. I love the fact that during my moments of greatest sorrow I can turn to land and water for prayer. I love that when I was at the lowest parts of my life, what brought me up was remembering the teachings of my elders, that of turning to our cultural practices. In todays contemporary society we are spoiled by a lack of discipline that our ancestors once lived by. We don’t have to be strong emotionally or physically and so we have become lazy. I am thankful for what elements our elders managed to hold onto and pass on to us. I am also thankful for the traditional teachings that I received from visiting other nations.

As a young woman I moved away from my home community to the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people. I started traditional cedar dugout war canoe racing, which is a traditional sport. Until that time, I was in pain in my brain and emotionally for many many years. I was deep in depression and feeling suicidal following the death of many loved ones particularly my younger brother and my heart was broken. But the cultural teachings that came with training, canoe training, land and gym training and running taught me I could "choose my pain," so to speak. So I chose a physical pain that made me stronger emotionally, physically, spiritually and I never turned back. Training may be hard, blowing through cardio cramps and strength development may hurt but it is nothing compared to being in constant sorrow and despair. I am so thankful for canoe training because it healed me and it helped me transform my life in order to become a better, happier, stronger and more fulfilled human being and woman. For anyone who struggles, this is always what I tell them. Sure, paddling busts your ass, or a good long run makes you sweat your "balls" off, but if you get out there and do it, the feeling you get from being on the water every single day 6 months of the year or weight and fitness training every week for the rest of your life is freaking amazing and the happiness is REAL.

I decided to return to post-secondary a few years after I started paddling. It has been almost 20 years now since I started canoe racing. I haven’t been able to race for the past 2 summers but I suppose things change as you get older. My babies and my education are now my focus although every day I try to go for a run, yoga or work out as it does wonders for my emotional happiness.

As a student, my family, my children and our future generations have been my greatest sources of inspiration. I wanted to contribute somehow to the healing of our communities. As an author of children’s books, I can help awaken the hearts and minds of children with the knowledge that as parents, our children are our greatest teachers. There were so many times as a student that I wanted to quit especially following my brother and then my godmother’s death. But I knew that if I gave up, I would be stuck and I did not want that. In order to transform my life and my future, I had to persevere every obstacle with the prayer and knowledge in my heart that if the Creator brought me to it, the Creator would bring me through it and so far this has been true every time. By persevering through all the hardships I faced through the years, I continue to help inspire others to do the same. 

I now have a BFA and a MFA in Creative Writing. I am currently in the Interdisciplinary Indigenous Graduate Studies at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, BC and have been accepted to transfer into the Ph.D. program. My area of research is focusing on contemporary Aboriginal Storytelling and literatures.

I have a funny story about something that happened with my Aunt Maria when I was deciding whether or not to continue my studies with a goal to complete a Ph.D. I had flown to Saskatoon for the third time within a few months and that 3rd time, I did not contact any family, I spent it with my partner who was working there at the time. I felt terrible for not contacting anyone but we had a great time. I also spent the whole time considering whether or not to apply to the program as the deadline was quickly approaching. Well when I got to the airport to fly home that final morning at 5am, I was standing in quite a long line-up. Suddenly I was face-to-face with my Auntie Maria, who by the way did not say good morning and who I had not said a single word about what I had been considering. She said, “I’ve been thinking about you. I want you to do your Ph.D.” I was completely stunned.

It feels incredibly scary to be at this stage of my post-secondary studies. For some people, education is an easy process. They get straight A’s without any struggle whatsoever and just breeze through course after course. This has not been the case for me as I struggle significantly with academic studies. Following my brothers death I failed the entire academic year, including a deluded version of “History of Aboriginal People in Canada.” The only course I passed was Creative Writing - Writing for Children. More than anything I wanted to give up after that year. As a result, I took a couple years off and went back to work. There was one story that I wrote during that class that I continued working on during my time off and that was “Shi-shi-etko.” When I finally sent it to a publisher, it was accepted right away. After that I realized that I was trying to shove myself into a little box of what I thought I should be doing, and that was the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) and becoming an elementary school teacher because that was what my mother and everyone else in my family did. When I decided to take the risk and follow my dreams, I was finally able to shine. That was how I finally came to the decision to follow my passion as a writer.


Nicola writes adult and children’s free-verse poetry, fiction and non-fiction. On land and water she finds peace: paddling her cedar dugout canoe, running, hiking and biking. She has a strong respect and an absolute belief in First Nation’s spirituality, culture and tradition.

Her most recent children’s book, Grandpa’s Girls, was a finalist for the 2012 BC Book Awards: Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize.

Shin-chi’s Canoe received the 2009 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and is on the 2009 USBBY Outstanding International Books List. Shin-chi’s Canoe is the sequel to Shi-shi-etko and was a finalist for the 2009 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award and a 2008 Governor Generals award for illustration.

Shi-shi-etko was a finalist for the 2006 Ruth Schwartz Children’s Book Award, the 2006 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the 2006 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. It was the co-winner of the 2006 Anskohk Aboriginal Children’s Book of the Year Award.

I heard an elder speak of the importance of our languages and our culture. He said, “Our words are powerful; our stories are elastic; our languages are music: they dance, they move and they are medicine for our people. He said they are a spirit within themselves and we are only the channel that brings them to life.” I write because I know what he said is true.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Coquihalla highway

February 6th, 2013.

Moving back to the Nicola Valley has been a process unto itself. Landscape, waterscape, each morning I wake to a beautiful view of the Nicola Lake surrounded by pine tree mountains. Some mornings it is foggy, some mornings clear skies. Swans gather, graceful, ducking, diving, white tail feathers and black feet in the air. They are unaffected by the winter chill. They are in their glory. I am somewhat envious.

Winter swims make us stronger and that is one thing for certain I miss about Sto:lo So:lh Temexw: water, clean, clear, blissfully, stinging and toe-freezing cold. Here at this end of the Nicola Lake the waterways run a fragrant shade of yellow-brown as a result of cattle ranch pollution. I find myself reflecting to when the weather used to be so much colder and the entire Nicola Lake would freeze solid and the ice fisher-people had a constant presence on the ice.

Here, I am. I am here, now. I find myself. I relearn who I am, where my blood comes from. Learning to accept who I am. Accepting where I am. I am learning that I am forever moving forward and doing the very best I can to give my son a good life and to inspire lives to live better lives.

Where we now live is not far from my godmother's last home, where she lived until she passed. It is still painful driving past that house. Seeing that other people live there now somehow feels like the shrine that house has become deep within my mind has been disrespected even though it has not. I still want to park outside her house. I still want to hear her dogs. I still want to knock on her door and find her there. I want to sleep on her couch and touch her hand. I still want to cook rice, crack open that jar of sockeye and sit with her, eat dinner with her.

However years have passed now since she passed and the life I live has changed. Now that I am finally home I reflect on the stories she told me and the stories our elders have shared about growing up in this back country. Stories of porcupines and grizzly bears that sing, coyotes and riding horse back across rolling hills.

The stories I grew up with always involve horses. or berry picking. or jarring fruit. or digging roots. The stories I grew up with always involve landscape. and elders. and family. and tea.

The stories I come home with involve canoes and water and new brothers and new sisters. The stories I come home with involve learning a new kind of self-discipline, moving through pain. working through pain. back straight knees together sitting through pain. running through pain. paddling through pain. paddling in pouring rain and loving a good run in pouring rain.

The stories I come home with involve freezing toes and sitting when my mind is running. involve races  and trails lined with moss covered stones, ferns, cedars, hemlock trees and green covered mountains. some of the stories inside me will never be told but always they will live.

The stories I come home with involve university and loneliness and failing yet persevering and doing it all over again and being okay with doing okay. being okay with failing because I know I will not stop at a fail. I will always keep moving forward.

The stories I come home with involve learning to love experiencing heartbreak yet finding fulfillment and true peace in solitude learning to pray with every fibre of my body, heart, soul and mind and experiencing the power and medicine of songs and stories from my own and all cultures, beautiful and powerful in their dances and colors and vibrance.

The stories I come home with involve people, young people, old people carrying their culture, their dreams, their courage carrying the sorrow and carrying the prayers of ancestors upon their shoulders prayers to heal the lives of their loved ones and all our loved ones. The stories I come home with involve learning to stand alone with sorrow and know I will not shatter. Learning to keep moving forward. Learning to have dreams and strive for dreams and to be selfless in helping others.

Courage. Strength in sorrow. comedy in sorrow, pain in laughter in tears in joy in perseverance in resilience in spite of everything.

The stories I carry taught me to keep moving forward. It doesn't matter how rough the water is always keep paddling. Never stop moving forward even if you're sinking. keep going, hold onto your canoe. hold tight to your paddle even if the water comes over your head. Always remember cedar never sinks.

You can do this. you have the strength. you have the power. you have the beauty of our ancestors the strength of our ancestors flowing through you. It is your life blood let it be your life blood. Let. the. stories. of. strength. become. you. me. us.

the stories I come home with tell me I am here now and I will travel again. I will return to my home whether home is here or home is there I will always return. I will always travel. everywhere I go I have loved ones. everywhere I go I gather stories I gather strength I bring it home. I share it.

All that matters is always doing the very best we/I/you can.

All that matters is never giving up.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Grad Thesis

My thesis is killing me. I'm stranded in a pile of pages, poetry and non-fiction short stories, one by one putting pieces together but not fast enough, all while wondering what in the world did I get myself into?

And I am here now, amidst the particles of sky and air and wind. Thinking about my home but loving Sto:lo Solh Temexw. In truth after seventeen years, this place here has become my home too and leaving here will be a process unto itself.

I missed the Saskatoon berries yet again this year. I wished for them so bad, every single day the berries were singing. Their berry songs drifting over the mountains and now the huckleberries are calling. Home is land it is sky it is dust, red willows, sage brush. It is so much more.

I am stumped for words with my thesis perpetually on my mind.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Cultus Lake

On the water I find peace within myself. Up until the heat wave, I was paddling all the way around Cultus Lake lately almost every day. Some days I follow the beaver. Or have surprise visits from the blue heron and other days the eagles are diving and fishing, singing. I've never heard eagles sing the way I have when I am on the water. It is absolutely beautiful.

There have been several things on my mind lately with regard to Cultus Lake.

1)  Speed boaters can be so inconsiderate of small watercraft, such as canoes and kayaks. They speed by, excessively close and sometimes holler at us as we paddle. It is not only incredibly stupid, juvenile and inconsiderate behavior, it is unsafe for paddlers. I often enjoy surfing the speed boats wake but some of our pullers are young and not as experienced and that is much the same for other people on kayaks. Boaters need to take heed of this when they speed close to us as we paddle.

2) The cost of parking at Cultus Lake. It seems that the Cultus Lake Parks Board has forgotten that they do not own the land and have forgotten that there was a people there long before they arrived. The cost of parking, at $1/hr or $5/all day is ridiculous for people training for sports who are there for 2-3 hours almost 5-7 days a week for as much as 7 months of the year. The traditional war canoe clubs have been training there for over 40 years and even prior to that, travelled that water for thousands of years. Paddling is one form of carrying on ancient traditions of the people now this ridiculous fee is slapped on. The Cultus Lake Parks Board needs to consider another alternative for the canoe club.

3) Cultus Lake is just absolutely beautiful. It is where I find peace. I am so thankful for this life I have been given and for my canoe. When I started paddling and canoe racing, I was given a second chance at life and learned to live in another way, a very traditional way. I suppose up until the point that I started paddling, I was well into learning our cultures and traditions but paddling made me stronger physically and mentally. It challenged me in ways I never would have experienced otherwise and I absolutely love it. I am thankful to be able to practice a sport that is so ancient and rooted within the Sto:lo and Coast Salish culture and way of life.

I think about this as I consider moving home the Nicola Valley. I am so lonesome for my home. I had thought I might move in time to gather but it looks as though that may not happen. I would like to gather sc'eqwem aka shiya or saskatoon berries this year. I will have to find out if they are ready or if I have missed them. In August, I hope to make it to the mountains to gather huckleberries. Sometimes there is just nothing like the smell of sage brush and dust and dry heat.

Monday, 23 April 2012