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.