A new Indigenous bookstore is opening in Langford, with the goal of providing a safe space for Indigenous writers to share their stories and for those with questions to learn.
Teddy Anderson (Yeií S’aghi), who has been adopted into the Tlingit community, started Medicine Wheel Publishing six years ago.
“The reason we started Medicine Wheel Publishing was because a lot of elders didn’t want to work with big corporations, they’re worried about being taken advantage of, while also a lot of teachers and people were scared to approach culture. So we created a company where we protect our Indigenous stories. Indigenous people have total control over the process. We just facilitate publishing them and spreading them around the world,” Anderson said at the store’s Sept. 1 opening event.
The publishing company has been based on the West Shore since its founding and publishes local authors and other Indigenous authors from throughout Canada. The books have been sold in Canada and the U.S. and are starting to sell in the U.K. and other European countries.
Trudy Spiller, who is from the Gtanmaax Nation in northwestern B.C., wrote two books: Trudy’s Rock Story, translated into English, French and Gitsenimx, and a version for younger readers called Trudy’s Healing Stone. The book recounts a story Spiller’s grandmother would tell her about a rock and teaches a lesson to young people about how to process their anger, by imparting it into a rock.
“When I was growing up I lived with my grandmother on reserve, and she would have us sit around in a circle under her, and she would tell us this story. The story was really about remembering what she told us. Once we could tell the story that she told us, then we became her knowledge keepers, so that was a way of us remembering. And as we got older, we realized through that, that things needed to be started to be written down and not just oral history.
“You have to start writing things down because people aren’t listening. Especially through the truth and reconciliation, I think that if we start writing things down then our history will be protected.”
The publishing company mainly focuses on children’s picture books but has started to branch out a little into adult books and a textbook. Starting people young learning about Indigenous culture, language and heritage is important, said Kung Jaadee, who wrote Raven’s Feast and a pre-kindergarten version called Gifts from a Raven.
“None of this history was taught when I was in school. I remember looking at my textbook – they called us savages, they called us primitive, they called us backwards. And so I believed it because it’s printed there, in like a hardcover document.”
Jaadee said Indigenous people have always been protective of their oral histories, especially when coming into contact with settlers, meaning misinformation about Indigenous people spread among settlers because they weren’t getting the full story.
Jaadee normally performs this story in person, so felt a similar protectiveness over the story but hopes that the book will allow more people to connect with the story and she will be able to perform the story in person for more people that way.
“It just says that all these stories are valid. All these stories are true. I would never call my story a myth because that is saying that it’s really only partly true. To us it’s not, to us it’s a real story.”
Anderson said that authenticity was another important part of the process, to ensure that if people are going to be learning from the books, that they’re the real stories told by Indigenous people.
“For the community, we just want it to be like a safe space for people to come to ask questions and learn. No question is a bad question. And by offering the space, we’re hoping that people can just inch their way closer to understanding and growing together.”
The Medicine Wheel Bookstore will open fully on Sept. 12 at 3202B Happy Valley Rd. in Langford.