When Kung Jaadee told a story at the launch of her first children’s book, Raven’s Feast, she started at the very, very beginning.
“Before the beginning of time… Wait, I’ve got to back up,” she said, speaking to a packed house in the Chief Matthews School library.
“Before the beginning of the universe…”
Born on Haida Gwaii, Kung Jaadee (Roberta Kennedy) returned to Old Massett six years ago to teach Haida language and culture at Chief Matthews School.
For nearly 25 years, she has performed Haida stories and songs across Canada and the U.S., and she was a storyteller in residence at the University of Manitoba.
While storytelling is her main calling, Jaadee said she was excited when a publisher approached her about putting one of her favourite Haida stories to paper in an illustrated children’s book — it seemed like a good way to reach a wider audience.
“Our country is so big, with everyone spread all over the place, so it’s impossible to know everyone,” she said.
“But being self-centred, I assumed everyone knew who Haidas were,” she added, laughing.
Teddy Anderson is publisher of Medicine Wheel Education, which aims to be a bridge between teachers and indigenous cultures.
Often that means providing books to non-indigenous teachers who want to bring First Nations stories into a classroom, he said.
But just as important, said Kung Jaadee, is sharing stories between First Nations.
“My co-teachers and I really want to expose the students to other Aboriginal cultures,” she said, noting that Chief Matthews School has already hosted Wampanoag, Dene, and Anishnabeg guests to talk about their traditions, and she is now hoping to bring a throat singer from the eastern Arctic.
“We had this feeling when we were kids that we were the only Aboriginal people in the whole world,” she said.
That feeling of being alone in the world is at the heart of Raven’s Feast, which finds Raven feeling somewhat lonesome after flying thousands of years through darkness to create the world only to see all the “two-leggeds” split off to the four corners.
Raven decides to host a huge feast for all two-leggeds, and is thrilled to see people of every colour arrive from the north, south, east, and west.
“What I like is that Raven brought everybody back together again,” said Kung Jaadee.
“It’s a reminder that, ‘Hey, you’re human beings.’ You might look different, speak different, eat different foods and tell different stories, but when it comes down to it, you’re all just people.”
“Love is the most powerful force in our universe,” she added.
“It’s not hatred. It’s not guns and killing or beating each other up — it’s actually love that’s the most powerful force.”
Illustrated by Canadian artist and animator Jessika von Innerebner, Raven’s Feast will soon be available at the Kay Centre gift shop.
Kung Jaadee is also scheduled to sign copies of the book at the Kay Centre on Saturday, Oct. 22.