Use the gifts the Creator gave you!
by Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
What is your Haida name?
Gidal-kint-gwaan (Little Doll Looking Around). My birth name is Sondra S. Segundo.
Where do you come from?
I come from the village of Hydaburg Alaska. I am from the Double-Fin Killer Whale crest, Raven Clan, Brown Bear House. My family is from the Hydaburg Double-Fin crest, Raven clan. My great-grandmother is Viola Nakatla Morrison. Her daughter, my grandmother, is Margaret (Morrison) Cogo. My mother is Victoria (Cogo) Segundo. My grandpa is Duncan Cogo is Frog crest, Eagle clan from Craig, Alaska. My grandparents were the last fluent speaking Kaigani Haida lovebirds! I now reside in Seattle, Washington, along with many other Haida. We have built a strong community here.
How did you become an artist?
I began my journey as an artist and author about 12 years ago. I was a young, newly single mother of three. Once I had cleaned the negativity out of my life, I began to have inspiring images and ideas swirling in my head. I believe that the inspiration to create Haida works is deeply rooted in my DNA.
What do you do?
The words to my first book, Killer Whale Eyes, poured out of me one day and then I began the long journey of illustrating it, composing a song in my endangered Kaigani Haida dialect and finding a publisher. All of this took me 10 years! I now laugh at the notion that I could get it done in 1 year. I have learned that masterpieces take time.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
I had a full time teaching job and was raising three precious little ones on my own. On my journey, I found many people who believed in me and my work. I received grants and fellowships that helped me grow as an artist and business woman. My tribal corporation, Sealaska Heritage Institute, published my first book, Killer Whale Eyes.
What inspires you in your artistic journey?
In the 12 years since this journey began, I have learned that my work is crucial to the survival of my people and in educating our youth and community from an Indigenous perspective. Since then, I have created three books, two Haida songs, two audio books, countless art pieces, a retail business (SondraSegundo.com) that sells my books and clothing featuring my art. This and my book readings/presentations have very recently opened the doors for me to resign from my job of 20 years to pursue my art career full time! Of course, I will still be working with the youth in our community, but on a much larger scale!
What are some career highlights?
My dream came true when I became a published author with Sealaska Heritage Institute 2014. I was very honored to be awarded a National fellowship and Cultural Preservation grant from First Peoples Fund in 2016.
What are your future plans?
My future plans are to write and illustrate many more books and songs, create many unique formline art pieces, start an Indigenous owned book publishing company, get my art into galleries, grow my wholesale business and, my favorite, get out in the community to share! Especially with our Haida babies! We have a dance group here in Seattle (Haida Heritage Foundation) which I am current Drum and Dance leader. We have close to 20 kids in our group and are constantly recruiting more. This has opened doors for us to teach our urban Haida youth our language through traditional and newly composed Haida songs. We are in the planning process of establishing an ongoing, Seattle-based, Haida language class in the near future.
What would you like to say to the Haida community?
It has always been a dream for our family to visit the motherland; Haida Gwaii. We are encouraged by the stories we hear of the great work you are doing to preserve our culture! I hope to meet you all one day soon, my family!
What would you like to say to youth who want to get into this field?
Like our kuníisii, we should always have a reverence for all living things and keep our hearts open to a future of endless creative possibilities.
Our youth are so precious and loved by our people! Use the talents Creator gave you, don’t let them go to waste! Each one of us is unique in our own way and we each have something important to bring. Some may be the keepers of our stories, some may communicate better with plants and others with the animals, some are artists and some love feeding the community. Whatever it is that you love to do naturally, is your own special gift. Always remember, you are a light in this world! Shine bright diigwaangs!If you’re interested in going into this field (storytelling, writing, Illustration, producing Haida
If you’re interested in going into this field (storytelling, writing, Illustration, producing Haida music, retail), please never hesitate to ask for advice! I am always here if you need me. I do what I do mostly for our youth. Dung dii kuyada!
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 S. Segundo