The “whirlwind” of four books in as many years flew by for co-authors Robert (Lucky) Budd, a local oral historian and renowned B.C. artist Roy Henry Vickers.
“It’s more unbelievable that we’ve done what we’ve done in four years,” Vickers said. “It just seemed like last year we started this.”
Peace Dancer, released this month, is the fourth and final instalment of the award-winning and bestselling Northwest Coast Legends series that includes Raven Brings the Light (2013), Cloudwalker (2014) and Orca Chief (2015).
Featuring 18 new artworks by Vickers, Peace Dancer offers a beautiful fable on the value of peaceful action in the face of adversity. Continuing on the series’ theme, it demonstrates the power coastal legends have to enact positive change and move readers no matter their cultural heritage.
A significant part of the joy in offering these books for Vickers, started as he walked the halls of Oak Bay High as a teen.
“I can’t believe it’s over 50 years that I stepped through the doors of Oak Bay senior high school and graduated,” said Vickers who celebrated his 70th birthday June 4. “When I was at Oak Bay High School I came across discrimination at the age of 17 for the first time in my life. I did not know what it was. So I set about to find out what it was.”
Vickers, now a renowned carver, painter and printmaker, learned his father’s family was Tsimshian, Haida and Heiltsuk while his mother’s parents were English immigrants. He found nothing in the library those days about the Tsimshan or Haida. Now his books share traditional tales in public and home libraries around the globe.
“The stories are ancient legends, they’ve been told since the time of the flood. They’ve been told to teach people how we should living in this world. How to make our world a better place,” Vickers said.
In Peace Dancer, the children of the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla love to play at being hunters, eager for their turn to join the grownups.
But when they capture and mistreat a crow, the Chief of the Heavens, angered at their disrespect, brings down a powerful storm. The rain floods the Earth and villagers have no choice but to abandon their homes and flee to their canoes. As the seas rise, the villagers tie themselves to the top of Anchor Mountain, where they pray for days on end and promise to teach their children to value all life. The storm stops and the waters recede.
From that point on, the villagers appoint a chief to perform the Peace Dance at every potlatch and, with it, pass on the story of the flood and the importance of respect.
“This book is really about adults more than anything else,” Budd says. “That’s really the one message that’s flat out in your face. We have not taught our children to love and respect, we’ve forgotten to do that.”
“The lesson in this one is we should clean up our act, clean up Mother Earth or we can suffer what this story is about – the flood,” Vickers says.
“It’s a message to people that the world is about how we live in the world.”
Packaged as children’s books, the only lament Vickers has is that exact perception – that they’re pertinent only for children. They all feature critical lessons for “children of all ages,” he said. “I’ve heard these stories since I was a little boy and they were never in any books. They were all part of somebody’s storytelling to me. Seeing them in books is exciting to me.”
The book format is a means of presenting the traditional oral tales to a broader audience, Budd said.
“With every single one of these books you can go (online and) listen to the original telling of the story. These are oral stories, they’re still going to be told for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “As Roy likes to point out, these are stories for children ages one to 100.”
The first stop for Vickers and Budd on their West Coast book tour is Victoria with a family-friendly event at Munro’s Books tonight (Wednesday, June 8), from 7 p.m. Guests will enjoy captivating live storytelling from the duo, birthday cake and information about ancient legends.
Just don’t expect them to read the book.
“We’ve never yet read the book at one of these events,” Budd said. “We’ve told 500 to 600 stories and didn’t open a book once.”
“It takes me all the way back to four years ago when we did the launch of the book in Vancouver,” Vickers recalled.
He was supposed to read, he and Budd perched on stools in front of a crowd. The storyteller got only as far as the second page then told the audience “the book is for you to read, let me just tell you the story,” he says. “We’ve never opened a page since.”
Peace Dancer is also available in Oak Bay at Ivy’s Bookshop.