Victor & Edith Newman


Master carver Victor Newman and his wife, textile artist and clothing designer, Edith Newman, have raised three children, Marion, Carey and Ellen. Victor’s great grandfather is legendary Kwakwaka’wakw artist Charlie James and his aunt is carver Ellen Neel so it is no surprise that Victor and Edith’s son, Carey Newman, has become a multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist and master carver who created “The Witness Blanket,” made with over 800 items collected from residential school survivors and the former residential school buildings. It was Victor, a residential school survivor, who inspired Carey to create the powerful monument, one that involved the entire Newman family. Now grandparents, Victor and Edith reflect on the importance of spending time together, conversation, inclusion, leading by example and the value of community involvement.

Q. What are your traditional names? What do they mean?

Victor: Hemosaka, which means the making of a chief.

Edith: Yakudlas’amega, which means she who gives everything.

Q. How many children do you have? What are their names?

Three. Marion, Carey and Ellen. Their traditional names are Nege’ga (she is a mountain of wealth), Hayalthkingeme (the face of a chief) and Kugwi’sila’ogwa (chief’s seat, where you place your wealth).

Q. How many grandchildren do you have? What are their names and ages? Where do they live?

We have one granddaughter. Adelyn is 10 and she lives in Victoria.

Q. What do you love most about being a grandparent? Least?

Victor: I had to wait a while for it to happen. For a while I was the oldest new grandfather I knew. It was amazing when I finally got to hold my grandchild after she was born.

Edith: I love interacting with Adelyn, watching her play with her new puppy, sewing, reading, making doll clothes, everything. She has a very broad vocabulary and chatting with her is an education.

I grew up in a family with both parents and four siblings in a neighbourhood where I was within walking distance of my maternal grandparents and three families of aunts, uncles and cousins. We were in each other’s homes almost daily. I wish that we lived much closer. So to answer the second part of this question, the physical distance between us is what I love the least.

Q. How is being a grandparent different than being a parent?

Victor: We don’t have the responsibility of taking care of her the way we did with our own kids.

Edith: Being a grandmother is much more relaxing than being a mom.

Q. What was important to you as a parent when you were raising your own children?

Victor: That my kids were happy. That they were happy with their own accomplishments. That they treated people with respect.

Edith: Raising my children was the most important job I have ever done. I chose to homeschool them so that every opportunity within my capabilities could be offered to them. I didn’t want them to experience racism which I, as a teacher, had seen in schools. I wanted them to learn in a traditional way as in learning through observation and inclusion. I wanted their learning to be as natural as learning to walk and talk. They indicated when they, in their own minds, needed to know something.

Q. What is most important to you as a grandparent?

Victor: That my grand-daughter grows up to be a loving person.

Edith: It is important to me that Adelyn be happy within herself; confident, self-assured, able to laugh at herself, generous, kind, mischievous, respectful, well-rounded.

Q. What part did your grandfathers play in your life? What did you learn from them?

Victor: I never had the chance to meet my grandfathers. They passed before I was born. I don’t know when. I heard about them from my family a little bit and I got to read about my great-grandpa Charlie James in books. He was a carver and knowing that made me want to learn to carve too.

Q. What part did your grandmothers play in your life? What did you learn from them?

Edith: My maternal grandparents lived close by. I stopped in there almost every day to visit and help out with simple chores. I learned from them to be respectful of others and to be giving.

Q. What do you hope your grandchildren learn from you?

Victor: I don’t get to talk to her very much. She is her own person. She likes to play nearby but doesn’t really play with me. I tell her I love her and that’s important. I know that she really likes it that our house is right at the beach. I don’t know what she is learning from me.

Edith: I don’t think I have any expectations for my granddaughter to learn from me. She will learn what is important for her at any given time. My job is to be as good a role model as I can.

Q. How have you passed along traditions and skills, in particular, carving? Music? Stories? Family history?

Victor: We homeschooled our kids. Having them home all the time meant they were able to learn by watching. This is important in Indigenous ways of learning. She used to come to drumming nights sometimes and she was really good at the dancing. Covid happened so we haven’t been able to do that for a while now.

Edith: Our children learned basic skills such as sewing, cooking, cleaning, shopping for food. I encouraged them to be self-reliant and to know that their education would never be over. My job was to provide a home where there were always piles of library books; the radio tuned in to music or interesting talk shows; sports equipment, participation in sports teams; visitors from all over who brought a wide variety of ideas, enhancing stimulating conversations. Our children were encouraged to participate fully in all conversation. There were opportunities to travel both as a family and with youth groups; they were involved in the community through volunteer work. Kwakwala language, attendance and participation in feasts and potlatches, learning traditional ways of preserving and preparing foods, drumming and dance classes were a part of everyday life. The list is endless.

Q. Carey has said: “My parents gave me a social conscience…” How?

Victor: By being the way we are. Indigenous people are always having to raise awareness in others. We are always having to teach people about who we are because Hollywood got it wrong. We have always talked about stuff with our kids so they know why people are the way they are. Carey learned from that.

Edith: We participated in walk-a-thons, fund raising concerts, peaceful demonstrations to bring social issues to the fore. We encouraged our children to speak up for those who may not be able to speak up for themselves.

Q. Carey has said: “I’m careful to adhere to traditional rules and values. Finding ways to innovate without disregarding history is important to me.” How did you teach your children—and how do you teach your grandchildren—to respect traditional rules and values and to regard history?

Victor: Carey was talking about the rules of traditional artwork when he said that. I am a very good teacher of art. I did that job for a long time. And my son has always been a talented artist.

Q. How did you help your children—and how do you help your granddaughter—find their talents and strengths? To explore their creativity?

Edith: Music was important in our lives. We had a piano and as soon as our children showed an interest, we enrolled them in lessons. The same was true for art as in designing and sewing clothing. Art supplies were available. I see similar opportunities being provided for Adelyn by her parents.

Q. As a survivor of residential schools, what do you feel when you see Carey telling the stories about what happened there, through works like the Witness Blanket?

Victor: I am proud that he is trying to tell people what happened in the residential schools. And that he is making people understand why we can’t just get over it.

Q. You and Carey share a special and close relationship. How have you arrived at the place you are in now, with such strong ties to each other and a good solid relationship?

Victor: We were not always close. My wife encouraged us to get counselling together. I learned then that I was treating him the way I was treated in residential school by nuns and priests because that’s where I learned and grew up. We learned how to be good to each other then. I am proud of him.

Q. What do you wish for your grandchildren?

Victor: I wish that she will be kind, happy, generous and productive.

Edith: I wish for my granddaughter to be happy, have a good sense of humour, to be kind and generous.

Q. Do you have any wise words or stories to share with other grandparents to help them in their role raising their grandchildren?

Victor: No, I don’t! They should do it their own way. What they need to do to be close to their grandchildren. It is fun to watch some of the grandparents with their grandchildren when they get to be close. They just light right up.

Edith: Advice to other grandparents. “Take every opportunity to spend time with your grandchildren. They grow up so quickly.”