Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Indigenous artist and storyteller from Vancouver Island publishes first children’s book

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What began as a beautiful, traditionally oral story is expanding and becoming an accessible physical book, complete with artist and storyteller Andrea Fritz’s Coast Salish Indigenous art, language, and teachings. 

Her first book publication, Otter Doesn’t Know, will be hitting shelves on Tuesday, September 12th—detailing the beauty of perseverance despite uncertainty and the importance of patience and kindness.

We are presented with this tale of a sockeye salmon, Thuqi’, that has gotten lost in the Salish Sea on her way to spawn in the Sta’lo’ river. When she asks Tumus the sea otter for help, he dismisses her on account of not knowing and being invested in other things. 

But when Tumus becomes lost in some weeds, Thuqi’ shows him that it’s okay not to know something and you can still find ways to help a friend in need.

(Andrea Fritz’s cover art / Orca Book Publishers)

Fritz told us that her storytelling journey began with her practice of Coast Salish art as a young girl, and the growing understanding she held for the harmony between both the imagery and the unspoken story within each piece. 

As an adult, she hoped to further incorporate the storytelling aspect into her art pieces—shifting into Traditional Oral Storytelling with her own complementary images to display during her presentations.

This next step began with researching her great-aunt, Ellen White—an elder and Traditional Storyteller in Cowichan. The images that Fritz would then create as she committed these stories to memory linked many of her family’s stories to her Coast Salish artistic talent.

“That’s the tradition of our people, was telling stories instead of writing them,” Fritz told Victoria Buzz.

“I love traditional storytelling. I find if you have an experienced storyteller telling the stories to children, they tend to be a lot more engaged.”

To honour her own education in Coast Salish art and teachings, she decided to begin introducing other youth to Coast Salish history, language, and stories, bringing Traditional Oral Storytelling into classrooms.

“Eventually, when I would tell [the stories] in the classroom, the teachers always asked if I had a copy of the book.”

Fritz decided that it would be great to have physical versions for the teachers to access and continuously allow students to flip through pages of Coast Salish art while also enjoying the stories as many times as they wished.

“That’s why I write—it’s a more modern representation of a traditional Coast Salish culture.”

(Andrea Fritz / Photo by Jordan Glowicki)

Lucky for audiences, Otter Doesn’t Know won’t be the last of her releases!

Orca and Fritz have a four-book deal, bringing us a new addition to her Coast Salish stories every six months. 

The next release will be Crow Helps a Friend, set for release in April 2024!

“Orca has been wonderful in making [the stories] more accessible to a broader audience while making sure that we hold true to tradition,” Fritz said.

“My main goal is for teachers and parents to use them as a resource for teaching their children about local culture…a lot of people live here…but don’t know much about it.”

Fritz shared that although a large part of Coast Salish storytelling is in the art, it is also about morals and learning how to be good people, which is an important lesson for children during formative years. 

And her being able to share these stories and add to the education system is a great way to honour those displaced and lost as a result of residential schools and look towards a brighter future. 

“[Those schools] were trying to destroy traditional ways of learning…and this is promoting it.”

Otter Doesn’t Know will be available from multiple different book stores in Victoria!

Additionally, it includes a glossary, pronunciation guide, and introduction to Hul’q’umi’num’ for those hoping to dive a little more into the educational purpose of the story.

(Andrea Fritz’s bee serigraph / Courtesy of Andrea Fritz)

Fritz is from the Lyackson First Nation of the Hul’qumi’num speaking Peoples on the West Coast of Canada, and was born and raised in Victoria. Starting in her early grade-school years, she began her long and rewarding journey mastering West Coast Native art in the Victoria school district from Victor Newman (Kwagiulth)!

You can view her artwork at the Eagle Feather Gallery and in large-scale murals throughout the Quadra Village area. Her website also features her prints for sale and announces any upcoming projects.

Right now, she is working on a series of insect serigraphs including an ant and a ladybug to add to the bee, butterfly dragonfly, and damselfly pieces—all to show her admiration for insects and their role in our ecosystems.  

Fritz closed the interview by giving her appreciation for being able to live and work on Lekwungen territory.

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