© 2018 by Janine Gibbons. 

“This isn’t (the) Berenstain Bears”

July 12, 2018


This morning I woke up thinking about Foam Woman... likely because I am waking from the fog that has been my brain with an infection.  Actually I woke up at 4 am because someones automobile was not working properly and trying to make it up the hill next to my house making a ton of racket.  I had gone to bed around midnight and spent yesterday all day reading and sleeping because of a root canal that I am undergoing... I could barely move the last few days.  I'm now on antibiotics and trying to alternate with healthy food that nourishes as I heal up.  It's my third root canal in 23 years and not for lack of great hygiene.  Just my luck! Apparently I work best with long term infections next to my brain.  The first two I had "fixed" when I was 17 and subsequently gave me seizures until my early 30's when I finally realized the correlation.  Seizures stopped once I had them removed.  Needless to say, super traumatic for me to find out I might undergo the same bit of good fortune again.  I will say....Thank you GOD for laughing gas.  Seriously.  Laughing Gas is AMAZING even in the middle of hyperventilating on the dentist chair.  In April I made a Dentist appointment with my regular dentist down in Ute country where I am also registered but they couldn't fit me in until almost October.  A few days ago I woke up and could see and feel all the veins in my face connecting to my brain and realized that all the fog in my mind was likely the infection spreading. I also woke up wanting to take a break from social media (mostly Facebook). Blogging is more like journaling so I'm going to let you all be privy to the inner workings of my mind. I'm finishing my third book as well but my mind has been so foggy it has been hard.  Luckily I'm about finished and thinking about the future of my creations. I am painting in the Ravens this week, which is my Moiety.


Last night with my kiddos we sang the only Haida song I know yet, my daughter and I singing, my son shaking the rattle and I was drumming as well.  (Mind you... this was ILLEGAL for indigenous people to do... speak their language, sing their songs and practice their heritage). It took me 40 years to find my connection and so wonderful my kids get to start as kids getting to know their indigenous heritage as I learn it myself.  We threw smudge that was given to me when I was last on Haida Gwaii, a few months ago, into the fire and watched it spark up.  We gave thanks to Saalana and made prayers for the earth to heal.  Earlier my daughter had come down with q-tips and bobby pins in her hair... she had fashioned some new hair rollers.... totally her idea.  She's always doing really cool creative stuff like that.  She inspires me daily.  My son is a lot more quiet but super outgoing.  I love to see his drawings as he, like my daughter, have some really amazing visions.  He doesn't like me to share them but I can see his imagination leads to things that he doesn't know that he is telling the stories of our ancestors.  It's really cool to see.  Many times I don't even know and then read a story that I am researching and say to myself...oh wow Reid drew that or he had that dream that is that story and of which he doesn't have knowledge of.  We are all like that.  I will have a mental block and then all of a sudden Lili hands me something random like a rock or something and then I have the answer.  Usually I don't sketch things out or write things out in planning... would always get in trouble in college because my art teachers wanted to to know what I was planning  (so I'm going to try to do that)  All of a sudden the answer is in my mind and then I create it.  Or I have a block and Lili gives me the answer somehow.  


Anyway, I have been trying to make the connection of Venus/Aphrodite and our Raven Creation Story.  I am not an expert AT ALL but my background is in art and I ALMOST had a minor in Art History with just one more class to take but then they stopped offering the classes I needed and my former husband wanted me to graduate so I could better pay our bills while he went back to school.  I generally don't write either but since my brain is healing up already I am having quite a bit of clarity.  I decided that I will illustrate all of Haida stories.  I will do as much research as I am able and will paint it like I see it.  You likely do not know that there were less that 600 Haida people left by the early 1900's.  I say it was genocide because really why with only 600 Haida people left would the government then choose to take away the children of the Haida's and take all of their artifacts and everything for over 100 years.  Just cruel really.  I read through these books and I cringe at the dialogue:  "the fur trade now is only a vestige of what it used to be, and the Indians themselves, decimated long ago almost to the point of extinction, are forsaking their recent past and are adopting modern ways for good for evil."  Some people see me and they say "oh you are a white person acting like an Indian" Actually someone really said that and then started bragging about masks that they had bought from a real "Indian" that happened to be one of my best friends. (BTW super racist to say that) and my response is this "I am native enough that my great grandmother was sent to residential school after she was orphaned. Her sister, a full Haida, lost her father and then her mother and second father, AND then sent to orphanage.  I am native enough that there were only 600 Haida people left and I am a descendant of those 600 hundred people. I am native enough that the nuns wouldn't tell us who our family was." Then during a festival I wore the tallest raven feather I had and smiled at the gal that was so rude. I can only imagine what it must be like for people of dark skin that can't choose like I can.  So I chose to get a tattoo that was visible so that I can stand with my relations of common heritage and so I can't take it off... it's a reminder of who I am and one of the many facets of my heritage.  I used to get upset but now I just educate.  It was been really traumatic for me to really understand what happened since I didn't grow up with my heritage but healing at the same time.  I am trying to weave my way through as I am sure all people are with a common background.  As I type this I just got an email from someone asking if I want a plaque from the Haida Gwaii Observer from January  "Janine Gibbons Paints Her Way Home" so I will leave it like that this morning and get to making breakfast for my kiddos, illustrate Raven and head to the dentist.




Painting her way home

Janine Gibbons talks about all she learned illustrating Haida and Tlingit story books


  • Jan. 19, 2018

Janine Gibbons grew up with stories about her bush-pilot nonni, but not her Haida heritage.

“I knew I was Haida,” Gibbons said, who grew up in Petersburg, Alaska.

“I didn’t know what that meant at all.”

But while illustrating a new children’s book, The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales, Gibbons got a chance to fill in the picture of her own Haida heritage, and share it with the next generation.

Published by Baby Raven Reads, an award-winning literacy program of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the book tells the Haida story of sea hunter Naa-Naa-Simgat, who rescued his wife from a supernatural killer whale at the bottom of the sea.

Gibbons also illustrated The Woman Who Married the Bear, a book in the same series that tells the Tlingit version of a story well known to Haidas as well. Both are intended for children ages five and younger.

“I wanted make sure that in each and every page there was something they could learn from,” said Gibbons, speaking at a reading in Queen Charlotte hosted by Literacy Haida Gwaii.

One of her opening illustrations shows a couple’s clasped hands, and on their hands Gibbons painted traditional tattoos. One of the book covers shows a real totem pole by Donald Varnell, and Gibbons insisted on painting it as it looked the day she saw it — half-finished, with adze marks still showing in the cedar.

To get the face-painting right in one scene from The Woman Who Married the Bear, Gibbons used an old photograph that a missionary took of a group of Haida women — a photo of the last time he allowed them to do put on their traditional face painting and regalia.

“Every time I see that picture, it makes me feel,” Gibbons said. “It’s like, ‘Say cheese! We’re taking everything away.’”

Still another scene shows kids tucked in bed after listening to a story, and sharp-eyed readers will notice that their pillow cases are decorated with the leaves of plants actually found in Haida Gwaii forests.

And Haida Gwaii readers might just recognize one of the orcas painted in The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales, which Gibbons based on a photo that a friend took of one breaching in Skidegate Inlet. Fans of the Skidegate Saints might even recognize a few faces around the fire when Naa-Naa-Simgat travels to the undersea Killer Whale House — Gibbons modelled the characters on a shot of the men’s basketball team.

Of the dozens of images that Gibbons drew from Haida Gwaii, from visits to the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, the Burke Museum in Seattle, or the kelp bed just outside her house in Petersburg, one at the close of The Woman Who Married the Bear shows a dying bear slipping into the woods, nearly unseen among the trees.

Gibbons painted it as an homage to her Haida grandmother, Helen Todd, who was just 40 when she died after her bush plane crashed on a glassy lake in the middle of Annette Island (The nearby Tsimshian community named the lake in her honour).

Just before the crash, Todd wrote in a letter about a dream she had, of following her father as he slipped into a cedar forest.

While the story of Naa-Naa-Simgat may be new to her, Gibbons did grow up with the legend of her grandmother — a woman who got Ketchikan’s “biggest buck” hunting contest cancelled after winning it so many years in a row. Not only was she a pilot in the 1950s, when female pilots were a rare thing, she would fly away for weeks at a time, checking her remote traplines for beaver, wolf and marten.

That convention-bucking attitude seems to be alive and well in Gibbons’ approach to art.

“My mom did not want me to become an artist — she wanted me to drive heavy equipment,” she said.

Best known as a jewelry designer, Gibbons uses a unique enamelling technique that she taught herself.

And Gibbons was not shy to follow her instincts while doing her first book illustrations.

Rather than follow a suggestion to paint the unusual couple of The Woman Who Married the Bear together in a kitchen, Gibbons showed their feet and paws curled up in bed.

“This isn’t Berenstain Bears,” she said, laughing.

Likewise, toward the end of the book, Gibbons insisted on a picture with plenty of big, beautiful flowers.

“Wait a minute, if this is a story about women, I’m painting flowers,” she said. “We like flowers now, we liked flowers 10,000 years ago. We still like flowers.”

Copies of The Woman Who Married the Bear and The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales are on order at the Haida Heritage Centre, and are also available through the website of the Sealaska Heritage Institute. Gibbons’ original paintings for both books will be on display in Juneau, Alaska during the next Celebration event, set for June 6 to 9.







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