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Where I Come From
“I just felt when I was there, that this is where our ancestors were, from ever so long ago. You know, it doesn’t surprise me that this has been found. There’s proof everywhere that our people lived in all these different locations, all around the territory.”
So it caused a lot of problems when the government decided to separate the people: “Okay, put boundaries here. That’s where you people will live, and this is where you people will live.” It’s caused a lot of problems – it still does today. You know, we disagree on who owns what land and what territory. And I think that’s what the treaty is about, to come to terms with that in their treaty work and their agreement with all three bands, or all three groupings of people that shared the land at one time. That we can still share the land. And we still are in close contact with the two other groups of people. There’s a lot of intermarriages and so we became more of one group of people. And the same as Sechelt. Although we do not speak the same dialect as Sechelt, it’s similar. It’s close to ours, but a lot of their words I don’t understand. Quite a few people came from Sechelt and transferred to Sliammon, I think way before Indian Affairs was in place. They were from Sechelt, and there’s a lot of descendants today identifying those people were from Sechelt – nišɛʔɬ. That’s what we call Sechelt: “nišɛʔɬ.” That’s their title in our language, the Sechelt people. And Squamish people that transferred to, or married into Sliammon – qʷʋχʷoʔmiš. That’s what we call Squamish: “qʷʋχʷoʔmiš.” So a lot of changes happen that way and people transferred, legally transferred through Indian Affairs to move – transfer to Sliammon or to Klahoose, or wherever they desire to transfer to, for whatever reason. So there were transfers that happened. But there were quite a few that transferred from, from Homalco to Sliammon, and some from Klahoose. If it was through marriage, then they had to legally transfer. If I was to marry a Homalco member, then I would automatically become Homalco in the early days. I don’t know if it’s still like that now. But if a man married a woman from another community, he had to legally transfer to her community if that’s where they wanted to live.
“Those things were never questioned before the government stepped in to take over our lives. Everything was recognized. Everything was orderly. Everything was shared and controlled by our own leadership in the day.”
So all these things are governed by the Department of Indian Affairs, our membership. And, you know, speaking of membership, that’s all so messed up! Because of the name changes – a lot of people had just one name when they were baptized as a young child, or as a young person. So it’s really hard sometimes to trace a person’s heritage, or their family line, because of the mess that the Department of Indian Affairs made through membership. Because a lot of children were not baptized until they were probably a teenager, but there was no record of their actual birthdate. And so the names got mixed up too, because “Oh, my dad’s name was Joe, so now I’m Elsie Joe!” or whatever. That’s an example. And “What was your dad’s last name?” “I don’t know.” So when people went to apply for old age pension, in my time in social work, I kind of helped people through that, researching: “What was your dad’s name?” “Well, he only had the one name.” So that was really difficult. It’s getting a little better now, because things are changing but – so there’s not just the overlapping territories and the who owns what, it’s who am I? Who am I as a person? It seems like you’ve got no identity. A true identity of who you are. Am I Klahoose? Am I Homalco? Am I from Comox? Or where did my dad come from? Those things were never questioned before the government stepped in to take over our lives. Everything was recognized. Everything was orderly. Everything was shared and controlled by our own leadership in the day. Our wɑčman, our hʌwhegus. “hʌwhegus” is our advisers in the community, the senior people in the community, like the Elders. Until Indian Affairs stepped in and we went from a hereditary Chief to elected Chief. And things really started to change from then on. Forgetting the old ways of doing things and going to your hegus in the community to – going to Indian Affairs now is giving us direction. Where to go and how to live and what to eat and what language to speak. So there’s a lot of change in that, and not always for the good. And people were helpless to – they couldn’t fight against the system. ’Cause it was total control of the government and the resources they put in place to help the government to change our lifestyle and where we live.
We All Have Our Unique Language
Yeah, so when we talk about territories, I think it’s really important to remember that, for me anyway, that I’m from the coast – I’m a Coast Salish person. But all Coast Salish people are not all the same. We’re different. We all have our unique language, our dialect, from other Coast Salish people, like the West Coast people or the people from Saanich or the people from North Island or way up north, Kingcome Inlet and all of these other groupings of people. They all have their own dialect. Along the coast here, like, Campbell River people have a different dialect from us. So we’re not all Coast Salish in how some people see us to be. I’m Coast Salish. But I’m a ɬaʔamɩn person. And it’s unique that we are three groupings of people, Klahoose and Homalco, that speak the same dialect. And I think that’s really important to know – ’cause I think to a person that doesn’t know, or is a non-Native person, or is a visitor from elsewhere – that we do not all speak the same dialect ’cause we’re brown! You know, “Oh yeah, that’s an Indian person. They must be like this or like that, or they must speak this language.” And we’re not. We have different traditional practices, styles of practices. We use different tools in how we practise our traditional ways. Our spiritual kinds of ceremonies are different in how we do it where I come from, through the teachings of my ancestors, my grandparents especially. That we practise differently than other tribes or bands of people. Theirs is different, different style. But unique to them. And it’s important to remember to respect all of the other practices and how they do it, the tools they use. The longhouse. We don’t have that in Sliammon. We never have. We never did. Ours was more the cleansing, the self-care, the taking care of yourself and getting your power, your spirit, by going off and living on your own off the land for as long as it takes. Might be six months you go off to prove yourself. And you do it alone. You bathe in the lake or in the river daily and you just live off the land. And you will eventually find your spirit – your spirit will come to you. You will get your strength, your power to be who you are. And that was very important. The women didn’t do that. It was just the men that did that. Women have different rituals, different way of becoming a woman. When you became a woman, there were different ways or practices that acknowledged that you are now a woman. And you are taught by your Elders how to take care of yourself. That’s your life-changing time. You’re becoming a woman. You are an adult. You are now responsible in a bigger sense. By being clean. You’re given duties to do, like housekeeping and different chores to do, because you’re being taught now to be responsible. ’Cause women married very young in my grandmother’s time. My grandmother was I think about twelve when this marriage was arranged for her. Because she’s now a woman. And they were together for about seventy years. Yeah, they were quite old when they died. So that was how the different sexes were guided by their parents, their grandparents, of their destiny in life and how to be a good person. It’s like training to be an athlete. So we didn’t go through the longhouse process. I know very little of how their practice is. But we don’t do that. Ours is different from that territory, from those groups of people. The same for Homalco and Klahoose people – we were the different grouping of people in the way we practise. Yeah.
It was all shared. It was never, ever competition. But there were certain areas, by certain groups of people that stayed mainly in one particular area, or travelled in one particular area. Whereas, like for an example, Campbell River people or further up north, they didn’t always come down this way. But the Sliammon people, Sechelt, Squirrel Cove, Klahoose people, and Homalco, they travelled more on the coast. But it was never in a disrespectful way. They would always go and talk to whomever the leadership in the community, or the “hɑys qɑymixʷ” as we call it, you know, whoever is in charge. They didn’t call them “Chief” back then. But it was like there was always someone that oversaw the other people in each community. And it was disrespectful to just go and help yourself to whatever is available there. Like if we went to Sechelt area, we’d have to go and get permission: “Oh yeah, that’s okay.” They would give you that okay: “Go ahead.” ’Cause there was a lot of resources! And it wasn’t restricted.
You Pass on That Knowledge
Well it was the hereditary system, right? That was our leadership. That was who oversaw the people, the community. It wasn’t just one person lookin’ after the community. It was the Elders, we called them “associates,” [laughs] the hegus. hegus always had other people that helped them, or they consulted with, in how the community is run. If you didn’t have a hɑys qɑymixʷ in your household, you always went to another household that has a hɑys qɑymixʷ or knowledgeable person, or experienced person in whatever it is you’re dealing with. Or a spiritual person. Those could be called “hegus” too because they assist the people – they help the people. So when we talk about hegus today, we see hegus as somebody with lots of money, they’re wealthy. You’re hegus, you’re rich. Different kind of richness in our ancestors’ way of thinking. hegus was you’ve got lots of knowledge and you share that knowledge – you pass on that knowledge. So before Indian Affairs, it wasn’t overpowering the people, but it was sharing the knowledge, sharing the wisdom, and be there as a support person to their family and their communities. So every community had those people around. That was very important to the people to have that person.
And all that changed when the election system came in. Chief Tom – my great-uncle – he was the last hereditary Chief. And he had a large family. And his father, his dad, who was my great-grandfather, had a large family. So it didn’t go anywhere else. It just stopped there when Indian Affairs came in. And Charlie was the first elected Chief in our community. Charlie Peters Williams was the first elected. He was a very young man. And I don’t remember the details of how that happened or how many Council members there were at that particular election. But because we were smaller membership then, we had less elected Councillors. I think there was only three, two or three, and the Chief. So that has really changed and it’s not always for the better. As the population grew then the elected leaders grew as well, so now we’re at nine elected leaders. And it’s done in a real kind of a – it’s not constructive sometimes in how the election system is done. Anybody could run, whether you know what you’re doing or not. It depends on who you know. So it’s so different – the system just abruptly changed! From that time on. That made this huge change in our community – and as it grew, now it’s really big. We’re about a thousand people now, with about six hundred, six hundred and fifty maybe, living in our community. A lot have gone away from the community and living elsewhere, whether for jobs or school or they’ve transferred out or whatever. So we still have the nine elected leadership. Although there’s only over six hundred on reserve. So there’s a breakdown there too, because our people who are living away from the community don’t seem to have much of a say in what goes on with our government of the day. And they quite often feel left out of the loop because they don’t have an input. But they can vote come election, although they’re not really involved in the running of the community. And I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that’s fair to people living away from home. They still come for a visit and that’s still their home. That’s where they were born. Their roots are there, their ancestors are there, and their parents or grandparents are there – relatives are there. But they’re now sort of in a different category that they’re kind of out on left field, you know, and I know they feel they’re not included with decision making.
“How can we prove we lived there? How can we prove that was part of your land?”
So I don’t know if that’s all going to change come treaty, when treaty’s finalized. I’m not sure about that, what’ll happen when we are now self-government – we’re gonna have our self-government one day – and whether that’s going to make things better. A lot of people are afraid of it. A lot of people are afraid of that change. It’s so complex. The whole process is so complex. I’m sure the people that are working in treaty know in their discussions what’s happening. But for people on the perimeters, or the people off-reserve or you’re not involved daily in the process, it’s really hard to understand. I know it is for me. You know, I’d have to hear and see daily what’s happening. So – and I’m sure they’re trying their very best – and when we come together for a meeting, for me anyway, I still find it hard to grasp where we’re at. ’Cause it’s just so much content in this whole process. And the whole argument about our territories and where we belong and where were we situated before land claims or treaty, you know? How can we prove we lived there? How can we prove that was part of your land? You know? And then they’re asking questions: “Oh, go to the Elders.” Talk to the Elders about – “How do you say ‘constitution’ in your language?” “How do you say –” um, what are all these big high words or strawberry words that the government uses? So in a way that’s to define or to prove that we actually lived on this land and we have to translate – or people come to us for translation of big words like “constitution” and “governance” and “traditional territories.” What does that mean? Why you asking me that? The Elders used to get really upset, you know, and they don’t understand. We’ve always lived here. “Oh yeah, I lived there. I lived over there. My grandparents had a property over there. They had a house there.” And on and on it goes. And then a year later someone else is asking you the same questions again! So you don’t know where it’s going! [laughs] Yeah.
There’s Proof Everywhere
I remember spending some time in Theodosia, at the very mouth of Theodosia where there used to be, I think, the last big house. It was a shared kind of an accommodation, and there was one over there at Harwood too, where the clam bed is, where we’ve gone digging cockles over there. There’s a sandy beach there. So just above that, in the woods there, in the trees. There was one there that I remember. It was probably forty feet, about. And probably twelve, fourteen feet wide? But it’s made out of cedar planks. And with a hole on top to let the smoke escape. And a dirt floor. And all around the perimeter were the beds, like, the plank beds. So that was most times shared with families and guests, friends that come to stay. With a central fire in the middle. I guess that wasn’t long ago, ’cause I remember seeing it there, the remains of it. And I’ve seen the one that was in Theodosia. But I imagine there was one wherever.
Last week I went with a group to Cochrane Bay area. And they uncovered an area there where there was a house. Of, like, 8,200 years ago. And it’s dug – it’s like a big bowl in the ground. It’s big! So they dug around there and found posts down there. The remnants of posts and flooring. And a midden – there’s clamshells and that. And they estimated it was 8,200 years ago. Which does not surprise me. It only confirms for me that our people lived on the coast and lived off the land! And they lived off the clams, and people just lived everywhere in nature. I just felt when I was there, that this is where our ancestors were, from ever so long ago. You know, it doesn’t surprise me that this has been found. There’s proof everywhere that our people lived in all these different locations, all around the territory. Yeah. So what we’re getting is a very small portion, I feel. Very, very small. You look at that little dot on the map of the land of the territory. That little piece of land there. That’s an Indian reserve. And over here is another little piece.
Our people mostly lived in the inlet because it’s sheltered in the winter months, like Okeover Inlet and in Theodosia Inlet. ’Cause in Okeover there’s a village site at the head. There’s a river there. Okeover is “toχʷnɑč”; “toχʷnɑč” is the name of that place. And that means it’s an inlet, it’s a long inlet. “toχʷot” means to string out something, like if you string out a net or a rope. And that’s the inlet: toχʷnɑč. “nɑč” is the head. And Theodosia is the other inlet and our people lived there. So in the winter months that was a very safe place to be, because it’s sheltered from the wind. So I’m not surprised they found all that there. ’Cause that’s what I’ve always heard. And I caught the tail end of that in growing up in that kind of environment, that everywhere we went as a child, “We’ll stay here overnight. We’ll camp here for a couple of nights.” And so we’d be there, we’d haul blankets and our pots and pans, whatever our needs were that we could carry in a canoe to travel from here to there, from this inlet to the next inlet, and we’d stay there, haul our stuff and just set up camp and be there for overnight or for several days, depending on what was happening around that area at that time. So, and that same thing applied to other people further up the coast here, like the Klahoose people. They had their places where they went, and they knew exactly where to go: “This cabin is there – that’s where we’ll stay.” And these cabins were shared by people that travelled. And so they went in and they would light a fire and cook their meal, whatever they did. But every time, before they left they replenished the wood, the kindling, and left it just as they found it. That’s how much respect there was. No one came around, vandalized these places. It was kept like that. It was simple, but it was shelter.
So there were different places like that all over the coast, up to Toba Inlet. For us, we reached up there. We travelled up there. We didn’t go up to Bute Inlet much. I remember once going up there. Maybe before that people travelled up there more, but that’s Homalco’s territory up there. Because I guess that’s where they were when people came and said, “Okay, you can keep that as your reserve” or “We’ll situate you there.” And up to Toba Inlet and some people were living there. “Okay, now you’re gonna stay there. We’ll corral you in!” So no more of this wandering around all over the coast for us! “Okay, you’re the Sliammon people. You stay here now! Don’t you go beyond these borders!” In Sliammon where I live, right by Powell River, tiyskʷɑt, there’s a river there, or there was a river there, way before my time that I remember. It was in the early 1900s that river was dammed when they decided to build a mill there. And our people lived on that site by the river. Our people always lived where there was a river, or creek, or where there’s water. And so when they decided to put us on reserves, they took us from that area, took my great-grandparents from that area and placed them in Sliammon. There’s a boundary there: “You are now the Sliammon Band.” Well, I don’t – I don’t care for those titles they put on our people. We are ɬaʔamɩn qɑymixʷ. We’re people of the land. ’Cause our people travelled all over the land! They just didn’t stay in this corral like a bunch of cattle.
I Know That Is Our Piece of Land
So it happened gradually over time. It didn’t happen overnight. I remember seventy years ago, or seventy-two years ago, in all that time there’s been a lot of change. Like I was saying, I caught the tail end of it by remembering those two big houses, the longhouses – one was over at Harwood Island, on this side. And I’m sure there were others on this side of the island. Because our people stayed in different parts of that island over there: “Oh, this was so-and-so that lived there.” Like, “Jimmy Williams lived there and his family,” and “The Harry family lived over there on that side,” and “Over on the far side was the Williams property.” There was no fences. There was no borders. But they just – that was their favourite spot as a family to go there. No one said, “You can’t go over there. You can’t go there.” It was open. And that’s what they chose as their spot and that’s where they would go. On Cortes Island, pʼɑqʼeyʔɑǰɩm, that’s one of our reserves. But it’s small. People lived there, and they lived in cabins as well. And nobody has lived there in a long time. But it still belongs to Sliammon, that particular parcel of land. And there were just cabins all over the place. And people that lived at Emmonds Beach had cabins there. Our people haven’t lived there since it was given away! [chuckles] Yeah, it’s a beautiful place. It’s a beautiful place to go fishing outside of there. You know, it’s sheltered and there’s a creek going through there. That’s where my auntie Katherine was born. They lived there. Yeah, there was quite a number of people that lived there, ’cause the fishing outside of there is good, and the land is nice. They had gardens and that. They still have gardens there! [laughs] Vegetable gardens, I think. Um-hmm. That’s where a lot of our people were when the smallpox hit, was in Emmonds Beach. I’m sure there’s a lot of remains there. I’m sure of that! Because people didn’t get moved or, you know, there was not enough manpower to move people to somewhere else for burial. A lot of people were buried there. There were a lot of people that come down with the smallpox. And the rest of the people were looking after them, getting them water. Pretty soon they were getting sick. There was no one else to get water for them. People died on their way to the creek, going crawling to the creek to get water. So this is what my grandparents told me about. And that was a real sad time. There were hundreds of people that got wiped out. And that was one area that there was a large group of our people there. Yeah. So when they designated these lands out, people didn’t have a say: “I want to keep that property! That’s where our families lived. That’s where our people died! That’s where our people are buried.” We’re told, “You can’t live here. It belongs to someone else now.” In my heart I know that is our piece of land because my ancestors lived there. No consideration of that sort was given to our people. It was just, “We designate this land to you and, okay, you people stay there. We’ll build a church there and you stay there.” It’s like – I don’t know what to call it. Yeah. I think it was so unfair. So unfair how things were done.
So in the older times when I was much younger, I used to hear a lot of the people saying, “That used to be our property. My great-grandfather lived over there. That was his property, although it was never surveyed at the time or identified. It was not registered that that portion of land belonged to my great-grandfather.” I know my grandparents always had this end of the community. And like, the Timothy family had this end of the community, about three houses before the church – it was where the Timothy family was situated, all the way up to over here. Yeah, so you know, the way people travelled, it was so easygoing. No restrictions. Just get on your boat and go there. Put up a sail – you will get there much quicker if the wind is blowing the right way. And living in Theodosia and in Okeover and Grace Harbour. It’s like this fella phoning this morning. “What was the origin of that cabin in Grace Harbour?” he asked me this morning on the phone. And I didn’t quite understand: “What do you mean about ‘origin of that cabin’? Who lived there first? My people have always lived there.” “But is it correct to say that Chief Tom Timothy lived his last days there and died there?” “No!” [laughs] Yeah, he lived there most of his life, but I remember him here in Sliammon. He was our last hereditary Chief. That was my grandfather’s brother. Yeah, and he lived here and he died here. But when he was younger, he always lived around the inlet. “qʼɑʔqʼeyq’ɑy” is Grace Harbour. That’s a small village site: qʼɑʔqʼeyq’ɑy. The meaning of that is, it’s like a place you go and stay. Camp. qʼɑʔqʼeyq’ɑy is like – “qʼɑʔyemʼ” is to stay overnight. So that tells me that’s what’s behind that name. Same as mɑksɛmɑ, Sandy, the other brother. He loved being around Okeover, toχʷnɑč. He loved being out here. He loved being out at Texada Island and other side of Harwood Island, and Mystery Reef and all those little reefs way out there. Yeah, he had cabins all over the place.
Theodosia was where my grandmother was born and raised. As well as her grandparents. That’s where they always lived. And it was a beautiful village site there. It was the homestead of our people on my Granny Molly’s side. Bob George’s family lived up there, in Theodosia. And it was pretty much that family, Bob George family, that occupied Theo. And they had nice houses there. I recall about three houses there, like, permanent homes. They were not little cabins. They were really nice homes. And by the time I was probably twelve or so, or ten maybe, going up there, they had pretty much depleted and were getting all rotted down. But that’s where they lived was up there. I remember as a child going up there. The one that’s further up the slough, on your right as you’re going up, is where Granny Molly’s house was. I don’t know if that was her grandmother’s house, prior to her, or her mother’s house. But it was a fairly big house. It was a comfortable house. That’s where I remember going up that slough and tying up and there was so much snow! And I guess being a child I thought it was really high. It was like a tunnel taking you to the house. Must’ve been pretty cold winter up there. It used to get really cold up there. And so, therefore, people would leave there in the winter until it thawed. And then they would go back again, and they would come back down here, ’cause Bob George had a home here too. So they travelled back and forth. It was quite convenient, you know. They travelled a lot. When we went to Cochrane Bay, we were going around, past Bliss Landing there. That’s where people would take a shortcut if it was windy. If they wanted to go inside the inlet, then they would pull into Bliss Landing and they had a pass going over to the other side into the inlet. And they would pack their belongings, and sometimes pack their canoe over to the other side. And it’s not an easy task. So they had ways and means of getting to where they’re going, you know, come hell or high water. I was asking Henry Bob about that one time: “What is the name of Bliss Landing?” “Oh, qɛgišɛyɩn,” he said. “Oh! How’d you know that?” He said, “Oh, that’s where we used to qɛgiš” – you know, going over. Overland. To the other side. So they named it “qɛgišɛyɩn.” And the other place is “qɛgɑyɩn.” It’s real narrow – it’s closer to Theodosia. And if you come out of there, it’s another shortcut. It’s different from the one in Bliss Landing. So it’s like a grassy kind of area, and it’s so easy to walk over and you’re onto the other side. You’re into Theodosia area. And we used to live there, on the other side, when my grandparents had their cabin on the float.
It Had a Lot of Use for Our People
“And it was nothing but, like, this huge slab of concrete or cement across the whole river way up there when they diverted the river. And men did that! You know? Human beings did that!”
Now we go up to toqʷɑnən, there’s overtaken by other people. You can’t go to the beach and get clams. You can’t go onto the beach and go onto the shore to go gather roots or whatever: “Get off there! This land is private property.” So we’re very restricted now and our territory that used to be our gathering grounds, my grandparents’ gathering grounds. Yeah, it’s restricted. A lot of oyster leases through that area and Okeover Inlet and, yeah. So there’s not much to get there anymore. They’re trying to revive the river. The river was diverted to Powell Lake, I don’t know how many years ago. That was quite a while ago. But there’s been work done to get some of that water diverted back into toqʷɑnən River. I went up there and I was just horrified. I was just blown away. My nephew Lee George took me up there. He works for our hatchery. And I’ve heard about this diversion, and so one day I went with him way up the river, about four miles up. And it was nothing but, like, this huge slab of concrete or cement across the whole river way up there when they diverted the river. And men did that! You know? Human beings did that! They diverted the natural flow of the river where the salmon came up. So for a long time there were no salmon going up there, because they couldn’t get up the river. So it was pretty sad, really sad. And they’ve totally ruined the land down below, where our reserve used to be. There was a landslide, and I don’t know how that happened, but there’s debris – we walked down through a trail and couldn’t go down any further because it was a mess there. Debris and rocks and tree stumps and everything. So it’s really ruined there for people that want to go back and live there! You know, nobody had thought of the consequences: “If we do this, this is what’s going to happen.” They just went ahead and did it. Again, there’s no consultation. “What is it going to do to that river that goes through that Indian reserve there?” It’s a small place, but it had a lot of use for our people.
You know, we would’ve been a lot better off if we had choices. We were lucky to get that little piece in Sliammon, ’cause it’s a nice location there. And we’re getting crowded as it is now, ’cause the population’s growing. But when I say we “got” the land, it was designated to us, but it’s not our land. It still belongs to – who does is it belong to? The government, or the Queen or the – who? [laughs] Certainly not mine! I can’t call it mine. My house is mine, but I can’t claim the land to be mine. It belongs to the Queen. The Queen doesn’t even know me! I have to send her copy of my book. [laughs] Yeah. So you’re so restricted in what you can do on the land that you’re sitting on, that’s not really yours. It’s sad. And when you die, you got to report to the Department of Indian Affairs. Otherwise, they have to decide who’s going to get your house, who’s going to live in that house, who’s going to live on that property. If I had a car and I willed it to one of my grandchildren or my children, I have to ask permission of Department of Indian Affairs. They are – what are they? Our guardians? Well, they don’t do a good job of being guardians of the people, let alone the land. Our rights. I just don’t understand that system. Yeah, I can’t go to a lawyer and say, “Here’s my will. You take care of this. I want to register this.” Sure, I can do that, but Indian Affairs will counteract that and argue their point with the lawyer that I don’t have the right to go and decide what happens to my property. Even through a lawyer. They have to have a hand in it. Make sure it doesn’t get spent the wrong way and – ugh! [laughs] Oh my. So, those are just one of the things I think that – when we’re talking about our rights, our territory, our right to make a decision – not everybody’s helpless and can’t make a decision. Sure, maybe some people need guidance and support, but not everybody’s in that same boat. We’re, like, lumped into that same boat that, “Oh you all don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t know where to go and what to do and what to buy, how to spend your money.” Like we’re children! We’re wards of the government. That’s what it boils down to! So those rights of ours were taken away a long time ago, in my grandparents’ time. Yeah.
We Were Already Here
“My ancestors were here for thousands of years. And this man comes along in his schooner or whatever, he came by: ‘Oh, what a drab place this is.’ It’s like, didn’t notice the Indians around.”
The end of this month is their hundredth birthday in Powell River. And there’s a big write-up in Powell River Living magazine, celebrating this and celebrating that, and how Powell River originated, how it first started. And I’m thinking, we were here! We were already here. My ancestors were here for thousands of years. And this man comes along in his schooner or whatever, he came by: “Oh, what a drab place this is.” It’s like, didn’t notice the Indians around. Maybe they were hiding – they were scared of the schooner. ’Cause that is part of the story too, that people would run and hide. They didn’t know what that schooner was. They thought it was a floating island or whatever. They were afraid of it. It took them a while to warm up to them coming to shore. So maybe that’s why this guy didn’t see any Indians at the town – downtown Powell River there. ’Cause that was the village site. Powell River was the shortest river, right? And big salmon went up there, so people lived there. But this guy – that story is in that magazine, says that it was just a drab place, desolate, drab. And then he went away and then someone else came along and saw the possibility of building the mill site there and damming the river. Not one word is mentioned about he seen some Indian people, or he seen living people! [laughs] And that kind of ticked me, you know? And I have mixed feelings about that. Now I’m asked to go and – to join in the celebration. And [sighs] so I have to really prepare myself for that, you know. The past is the past, I realize that. That’s all happened way back when. And I’ve got a lot of good friends now in Powell River and, you know, we are part of the community. And so I have to work with that. I have to accept that. But just the way that, when stories are being written, the true story, the true history is never talked about, you know? That related to the story of that day, add a little piece about who lived here, that we actually were – not me, but my great-grandparents, my ancestors for thousands of years. It’s never mentioned in there. And I think that has to be mentioned. So I’d like to have that mentioned in my book, [laughs] in case people didn’t know! And I think a lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know that. The newcomers, the younger people – I’m sure the first people that came are all long gone. There’s no one that will remember that day. That’s a hundred years ago!
So people need to know how we became where we’re at, how we were moved and – it’s like being fenced in over there: “You’re not allowed to come on this side of the fence.” So seems like all our lives we’ve been fenced in somewhere. Going to residential school and you’re in this institution and it’s fenced in. You can’t go outside the fence. There’s no freedom to do what our people were used to, living and moving and going from place to place, and there were no boundaries, no restrictions as to where you can go. People would climb the highest mountain to go and hunt for mountain goat, wherever that may be. And they were very industrious and so self-reliant and survivors. And they knew how to survive and how to gather food and work together and be just – families helping families. And getting along with one another. And if you didn’t get along, you were sat down and dealt with by the hegus in your community, by your leader, by the Elders, whomever they were. They were always there. There was always those designated people. It wasn’t written somewhere in a book, or you had to fill out a form to do this, or whatever you had to do. People worked in harmony with one another. And I’m sure there were some that didn’t, you know, abide by the rules, and they were dealt with accordingly.
He Got His Spirit Back
“So that’s powerful. Very powerful. And it wasn’t something that was told out of nowhere to my great-grandparents. And that’s a true story. My great-aunt used to tell that story to me. So did my grandmother and those sisters, you know, there’s several sisters, my grandmother’s sisters. And that’s – that’s a fact. That’s a true story.”
So going from talking about the teachings of how to keep well, how to let go of grief, how to deal with grief, and taking care of yourself, I’ll use an example. And this was not all that long ago that this happened, in my grandmother’s time, actually. And this was a brother of my grandmother’s. He lost his only son. I’m not sure how old his son was, but he was probably around ten, twelve. He was young. When he lost his son, he lost the will to live. Up until then, my grandmother’s brother was a very good provider. He was a good hunter, he was a good fisherman, he brought food into the home. He was always out being busy and doing things. He was just starting to teach his son to do all these things, taking him with him wherever he went. His son got sick and he died. And for a long time, he wasn’t able to do anything with his life. He was grieving. He just kind of fell apart: everywhere he went, he was mourning, he was crying. Although he went hunting, he never caught anything. He was so absorbed in his grief. And wherever he went, if he was hunting, there was always the owl that was ahead of him, wherever he travelled in the forest, in the woods. And the owl will chase animals away, warning the animals away? – that is the belief. So whenever he went out in the boat to go fishing, he would see the sea lion instead, or the whale, or blackfish. That also chases the fish away. So he’s not able to catch anything, or bring home anything. And this went on for quite a long time. He grieved so much.
And one day, my great-great-grandmother’s husband – that was her second husband, his name was Felix – they lived up in Theodosia, and he was one of two healers that was recognized in our community. He was a very powerful man. He was a twin, this man. And the belief was that twins were very powerful? They carried a lot of good energy. And this man became a healer. He was psychic. He could see things that a lot of people could not see. He felt things. He was so much, like, in between the spirit world and the living world that he was so in touch. He was so in tune that he had gone to visit his family and after they ate, he felt ill. He got up and he went out and he got sick to his stomach. And he came back and he said, “Something’s not right in this home. Someone is very ill. And I’m gonna go away and I’m going to meditate on this. And I will come back and I will tell you – identify who it is that is very sick in this room.” So he went out and did some meditation overnight. This is how he meditated, was sitting by fire and chanting and going into his own little spirit world, asking the spirits to guide him, to help him. And he recognized the one that was sick. He came back the next day and he said to him, “You are the one that is very, very sick.”
He said, “You’ve lost your spirit. Your spirit has gone away from you, because you’ve been grieving for so long over your loss of your son. I was able to track your spirit. And your spirit is way up in Toba Inlet. Your spirit is on top of the highest mountain there at Toba Inlet. It’s sitting right on the top there,” he said. “If we don’t bring it back, if you do not co-operate, your spirit will go to the other side of the mountain and there’ll be no bringing you back. You’re going to be dead. But if you co-operate and help bring your spirit back – it’s entirely up to you – I’ll help you. And then we’ll work together.”
So this is what they did. Someone went out and got a seal, went hunting, ’cause this what the healer requested. This would be the offering for the return of the spirit. So that was all ready. Everything was gotten ready. And this all happened at Emmonds Beach. There was a village there – a lot of our people lived there. And so he had a little sweat. Nowadays you may see, like, a sweat lodge, but our people used to have individual small sweats. It was just enough for two people. So this was what they used. “And we are going to go in there and I’m going to pray. You gonna help me, ask the spirits to bring your spirit back. And it’s going to take us all night in there.” So they went out when it got dark, and he told him, “At the first breakin’ of daylight, the white owl will bring your spirit back to you. We will know when you hear that from a great distance the owl will make its sound, will make his call. And then he will move and come closer, and the third time that we hear him, he will be sitting up in this tree above us.” So that’s what happened. They were there all night. It was just breakin’ daylight. It was still dark yet. It was just a hint of light coming. And they heard that owl. Came closer. Then the next time they heard it, it was on the tree right above them. And these white owls, they’re called “qʷoqʷoqʷ” in our language. Very powerful, very deep voice when they speak, when they holler and when they make that sound – hooting sound. They’re so very loud, your hair will stand up on end. And it did that. And he could just feel that his spirit come back to him, right from the top of his head down to – it was a rush of this energy through him. So that was how he got his spirit back.
“It wasn’t a legend, it wasn’t a made-up story. I truly believe in that. And they used to point out, ‘That’s the tree that the white owl came and sat on.’”
And that day they had an offering of the seal meat. They cooked it and they got a fire going and they offered it to the ancestors, to thank the ancestors for bringing his spirit back. And my grandmother remembers that! And this is why I truly believe that this happened. Because this was in her family that was a generation up from her, that did this work – that were able to do that kind of work. That believed in that, and practised it. And it works! It worked for them. Because that was how they did things. That was how they looked after their spirit. And to me that’s spirituality, the belief in spirituality: the belief that when you believe enough, it’ll happen. That you call upon the spirit of your ancestors. They will help you. How did that white owl know to bring that back, as predicted by the healer? How did he know that? Because they are of one mind. They are of one spirit with that white owl. So that’s powerful. Very powerful. And it wasn’t something that was told out of nowhere to my great-grandparents. And that’s a true story. My great-aunt used to tell that story to me. So did my grandmother and those sisters, you know, there’s several sisters, my grandmother’s sisters. And that’s – that’s a fact. That’s a true story.
So I truly believe in things like losing your spirit when you lose a loved one. So that became part of the teachin’ in our family. That when you lose someone, if you’re grieving and you allow yourself to be crying all the time, you lose your will to live. You lose your will to take care of your family, or to take care of yourself – you become very sick. And once you’ve, I guess, hit rock bottom, then you’ll just die. It’s like it could kill you! So you have to be strong. When you lose someone in your family, you have to try to be really strong. Remember those teachin’s. Remember the bathing, the cleansing, the getting up early in the morning and going outside and doing your cleansing. Greet the new day. And try to heal your spirit – to let your grief go. And by cleansing – you take water and you wash your face and you gargle some of this water, and you spew it out there. That’s cleansing your inside as well. You want to feel lighter, ’cause you’re heavy – the heaviness is there when you’re grieving.
So we were always reminded of that story: “Look at what had happened to this man, that he almost died because he let his grief get the best of him.” So this is why this is a teachin’ – it’s a very important teachin’ – that you look after yourself, take care of yourself. Because if you don’t, nobody else is going to take care of you. That’s a very personal thing, is grief, and nobody can come and take it from you. It’s up to you to work on your wellness, to get yourself better. To get back to normal. Because if you don’t, you’re going to be down and you’re not going to be good to yourself or to anyone else after a while. So that’s a lesson learned from that. It wasn’t a legend, it wasn’t a made-up story. I truly believe in that. And they used to point out, “That’s the tree that the white owl came and sat on.” And what makes it more believable – makes it more factual, makes it more useful – that you could use it, because it was true! Doesn’t get any better than that. So I truly believe in that. I just really believe in that – the importance of self-care. And especially at a time like that, you know, the loss of someone you love, someone you’re close to. There was a lot of teachings around self-discipline, especially if you lost your husband, your spouse, or you lost your mother and your father, ’cause you’re so closely connected to them. And that’s the time to use those teachings about self-care.
You don’t get into bad behaviour or give in to, for an example, today – I know our people didn’t have alcohol years ago – and what happened today is sometimes people will turn to alcohol or to medication to feel better, because they’re grieving or they’re hurting. They’ll turn to something to make them feel better. But people didn’t have those things, and this was how they took care of themselves. But they recognized that if you don’t do this important work of self-care, then you’re going to end up dead! Eventually. You’re going to be no good to yourself or anyone else. You’ve developed this bad habit. You’ve become lazy. And become, you know, just a nothing. Although you were maybe a real good hunter or a good provider, your spirit leaves you. And you must protect that spirit. You must hang on to that.