Welcome Family and Friends to Our Bighouse, written by Nella Cook Nelson and illustrated by Karin Clark, is a contemporary story told through the voice of a 12-year-old Kwakwaka’wakw girl named Gana who lives in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay) on Cormorant Island. In this Indigenous children’s book we learn that from the time she is little, Gana attends potlatches and ceremonies in the gukwdzi (Bighouse).
The regalia Gana wears—a button blanket, dancing apron and masks—were designed and made for her based on her family origins or clans. Her grandparents and other relatives teach Gana how and where her family and community came to live in this world. She learns dances and songs that belong to her family and ancestors. Relatives also teach her cultural protocol and expectations while she attends potlatch ceremonies and other ceremonies, like mourning, marriage, naming, and peace ceremonies and dances. The ancient cultural teachings she learns in the Bighouse are useful to Gana in her everyday life and continue to have value in the 21st century.
Nella Cook Nelson, originally from the N’amgis Nation and born and raised in Alert Bay, BC, drew from her experiences witnessing family potlatch ceremonies, feasts, and other west coast Indigenous traditions when writing this Indigenous children’s book. It wasn’t until Nella was in grade 4 that aboriginal students were allowed to attend public schools. When she was 12-years-old, the first Bighouse since the anti-potlatch law had been lifted, was built in Alert Bay.
“The teachings of the Bighouse have been in existence since time immemorial and have evolved through time. In essence, the teachings provide the conduit for our people to reach back into the origin of time to conduct our sacred and traditional ceremonies related to the stages of life: birth, puberty, marriage, death, naming, and transferring of rights and privileges,” writes Nella in her author’s note.