New Songs, New Stories. An Old Tradition

Drum in hand, Sondra Simone Segundo (Haida) begins movement at the front of the classroom. The eager students are ready to learn a strict art form to create illustrations, as her people have done for thousands of years. Sondra sings in her Native language — songs passed down to her, and songs she has written for this and the next generation. She tells the students where she comes from: the Double Fin Killer Whale Crest, Raven Clan, and Brown Bear House.

Drum. Movement. Illustrations. Songs. Words. They all tell Sondra’s story.

These elements blend in her books. Killer Whale Eyes is a story from an inherited gift of imagination, but also from a tale passed down through 500 years of family history. As a contemporary Native, Sondra creates her own stories from ones passed down to her. In this way, she keeps the ancient way of storytelling alive. New songs, new stories. An old tradition.

With the support of First Peoples Fund, Sondra published another book, Northwest Coast Native: Formline Art Made Easy, to teach the art form of her Haida people. Formline is a highly intelligent system of interlocking shapes that create lines to define a subject, such as raven, bear, wolf. Northwest Coast Native people have practiced formline art for over 3,000 years to design, carve, paint.

This form is seen in works closest to Sondra’s heart, and in her illustrated books. Lovebirds: The Story of Raven and Eagle is based on her Haida grandparents’ lives. After 53 years of marriage, they passed on the same day in July 2000 of natural causes.

In the classroom, Sondra puts aside the drum to work with the students as they draw their first Haida designs. Her step-by-step teaching process makes every child feel successful and proud of his or her work.

Jeanne Jimenez, Haida elder and language specialist, calls Sondra “galaga,” a Haida word meaning “does a lot of good things.” And that is Sondra’s story.


“Haw’aa kuníisiis.

Thank you ancestors.

Díi kíl daguyáagang.

My voice is strong.

Hl t’asdla dagwçíihlda íitl’aa ñugíins.

I will work hard and finish our songs.”

~ Sondra Simone Segundo