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Some background about this new book I’m launching

May 31, 2009

LGermanBookThis month, I am really pleased to launch a book that I contributed to.  First Nations of the Pacific Northwest: Change and Tradition was published in Germany in 2005 (the entire text is in both German and English) but, until now, it has never been available in Canada.

This book was published by the Westfalian Museum of Natural History in Muenster, Germany, to accompany their exhibition on native cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

Tla-o-qui-aht carver Joe Martin, well known by most here in Tofino, is also very well known internationally!  The museum’s director, Dr. Alfred Hendricks, had heard of Joe, and commissioned him to carve both a fullsize dugout canoe and a totem pole for the museum.  When Dr. Henricks asked me to provide photographs of the carving, as well as of other traditional activities and food sources, I was most willing to be a part of this project.

Museum display and my photos

Museum display and my photos

However, having made some very close friendships with Nuu-chah-nulth people over the years, I also felt that rather than focusing on the traditions and of how Nuu-chah-nulth people “were”, we should also talk about how they “are”, today.  Clearly, one of the biggest issues that affects native people right across our country today is the Indian Residential School system: the legacy of abuse, degradation and neglect that occurred at many of the residential school plagues communities and families today in the form of numerous social issues.  I was most pleased when Dr. Hendricks accepted my suggestion of also including a part, both in the museum exhibit and in the book, about the Residential School system, and its long-lasting effects.

When the museum exhibit was set to open, in the fall of 2005, Dr. Hendricks invited Joe and me, along with carver Lyne Desrosiers (who had worked with Joe and Henry Nolla on the totem pole), as well as Joe’s sister Mary, a cedar-bark weaver, and his daughter Tsimka, to attend the opening.

Joe, Tsimka and Mary Martin at the opening ceremony

Joe, Tsimka and Mary Martin at the opening ceremony

In Muenster, we got to see the final stages of the museum exhibit being put together; in addition to the canoe and pole, works by other local Nuu-chah-nulth artists including Mark Mickey, Billy George Keitlah, Liz George, and Carl Martin were featured.  The museum also built a longhouse that people could walk right into, with great house posts carved by Joe and Lyne, and a central fireplace and drying fish hanging from the ceiling (plastic, fortunately).  We were honoured guests at the official opening, and then the museum generously treated us to a week-long visit to Muenster and Berlin!

I was extremely pleased to see what a quality book Dr. Hendricks had produced for the exhibit.  I had been expecting an “exhibition catalogue” in a magazine-type format.  But here was a well researched, and beautifully designed and printed hard cover book, with an incredible range of archival photographs mixed in with my colour photos.  (It’s always a pleasure for a photographer when publishers do a good job with printing!)

Photo display at the museum in Germany

Photo display at the museum in Germany

I have always been disappointed that this book has never been available in Canada: especially the section on residential school.  The 16 people that I interviewed spoke so openly about events that are so painful for them – all for the purpose of helping all Canadians to know what really happened there, and to promote healing.  And that’s why I undertook this project too – how can we expect people to understand these things, and be able to make the right decisions, when they don’t even have the information?

So, that’s why I have taken it upon myself to import this book.  And I’m really pleased with the response so far, with nearly every book store that I have approached choosing to stock it.  I will be setting out on a multi-media publicity tour  this month (here are tour dates and venues) with a slide show and film clips, and members of the Martin family will be present at at least some of those events.  I hope to see you there.

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