Did you know, the first aboriginal publishing house in Canada started in Nanaimo?  Randy Fred who conceived  of the idea at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) named the company Theytus, a Salish term meaning “preserving for the sake of handing down.” He rented office space above the Book Store on Bastion Street. (Once Randy Fred left that space, the Book Store on Bastion Street took over the upstairs as well as the main level. It’s no longer in existence.)

The first book from Theytus Books was Gone Indian. The second was a collection of legends called Kwulasulwut: Stories from the Coast Salish by Snuneymuxw elder Dr. Ellen Rice White, also known as Auntie Ellen. Her traditional name is Kwulasulwut, “many stars.”



I am storyteller.
I am medicine woman.
I am midwife.
I am long house speaker.
I am many stars.


I had the honour of speaking to Auntie Ellen, Dr. Ellen Rice White, on several occasions as I wrote an article about her for More Living magazine. (The magazine is no longer published.)

Auntie Ellen’s stories of recent experiences and her memories of many decades blend together across the kitchen table. She remembers giving the late Frank Ney (1918 – 1992), once a popular mayor of Nanaimo, a Snuneymuxw name 50 years ago. He was called Q’ullhalumutsun, meaning “killer whale”. (“Tun” at the end of a name denotes a male and “wut” denotes a female in the Hul’q’umin’um’ dialect.)

“It’s a funny sounding ‘q’,” she said as she spelled the name phonetically for me. Auntie Ellen studied linguistics at the University of Victoria when she was 52 years old.


Old Spirits

Fifty years ago , Auntie Ellen
gave pirate-mayor Frank Ney,
A Hul’q’umin’um’ name:
Q’ullhalumutsun, killer whale.

When Auntie Ellen blessed the relics
in the new Nanaimo District Museum,
she could hear Frank’s voice.
Old spirits cry through the living person.




I also wrote these next poems from what Auntie Ellen told me.



I learned Coast Salish culture, hunting and fishing
from my paternal grandfather George Harold Rice,
my paternal grandmother Mary Rice, Xalunamut,
Granny’s only brother Tommy Piell, Quyupulenuxw,
my maternal grandmother Louisa Bob, Tsun-uylhaat,
my mother Hilda Wesley Rice, Qw’ustanulwuit,
and my father Charles Rice, Kwulasultun.

I was raised with six boys to cut cedar trees,
to build houses.
From the age of nine I assisted in midwifery.
My young hands were virgin energy.
I started to deliver babies when I was sixteen.


Rice Island

I was born on Rice Island
officially known as Norway Island,
near Kuper Island
off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

A little sack of gold was used to buy Rice Island.
In the end, my mother couldn’t keep up with the taxes.
She sold it for only $40,000.

We’re allowed to look around the island
while the rich people are away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have one of Auntie Ellen’s book, Legends and Teachings of Zeel’s, The Creator (Pacific Education Press, 2006) that she signed for me in September 2009. There are some Hul’q’umin’um’ words as well as: “To Mary Ann with my blessings. Always be happy. From Dr Ellen Rice White, Kwulasulwut.