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And yeah, it was pretty tough, just to survive. It was tougher than I remember my childhood was. We lived without a lot of those things that by then we were getting used to, you know, having things that we never really had when we were little, when we were growing up. And yet it was quite acceptable – that was okay, that’s how it was. We didn’t have fancy things, we didn’t have extras, but we always had enough. We always had enough. So by the time my children started going to school and – having to provide for them, it was hard to. So I picked up odd jobs myself when my husband was not working. Or if it was a hot summer and the woods shut down, so I had to supplement our family income by – I worked as a chambermaid, I worked as an oyster shucker, and doing stuff like that just to help bring in added income to our family.
“My grandfather went there and dug clams, just enough for supper. Just bring home a little bucket and that’s for supper, that’s for clam chowder.”
We don’t have as much as we used to. Here we used to just go out there, down to the low water in front of the community here, down to the point. My grandfather went there and dug clams, just enough for supper. Just bring home a little bucket and that’s for supper, that’s for clam chowder. Now you can’t go down there, because it’s all contaminated from the mill. We could always go out here, there’s a reef out there. I used to go and jig cod there. I would go there, jig cod and get a couple, and bring it home and that’s our food for the next coupla days. Just so much that has changed. Sometimes I think it’s for the better, but the more things people have, the more that people want. Life is not simple anymore. So I don’t know if it’s better or if it’s worse. I know we can’t go back to the way things were, ’cause the young people of today just don’t know that kind of lifestyle, or the resources are getting depleted and we can’t go there anymore. Yeah, it’s a total different world now.
“I used to go and jig cod there. I would go there, jig cod and get a couple, and bring it home and that’s our food for the next coupla days.”
Yeah, life is not always easy raising a family, when I was raising my children. I really didn’t have a formal education, because school was a hit and miss for me when I was growing. My grandparents didn’t approve of me going to residential school. So we were always away from the main reserve, just so that we don’t get sent away to residential school. So a lot of the families took their children away from the community. Around August, you just stayed away. So once the capacity was, you know – once they met their quota, I guess, the rest of us were not made to go. Until the following year. Then they would do another scoop. So I went to school whenever I could, in the day school. It was just maybe a month in the winter. Maybe a few weeks, then we’re going again, travelling. So I didn’t really have a formal education.
I guess my next job now as a married woman, and I already had children then, was working at the oyster plant in Okeover. And that was hard, hard work. And my children were quite young then. And so the older ones babysat the younger ones, or sometimes it was my other relatives: my grandmother, my mother-in-law. Yeah, that was really hard work. And I was lucky to make seven dollars for the day. That’s a dollar a gallon of oysters shucked. And these gallon containers had to be just overflowing. You don’t stop till it’s overflowing. So that was a dollar. Then you had your expenses. You had to buy your gloves, your apron, your knife and – yeah, so it was hard work. Oh God! I’d come home and I’d have to soak my arm in warm water because my whole arm was achin’ up to my shoulder. It’s not an easy job when you’re not experienced in shucking oysters.
“And I was lucky to make seven dollars for the day. That’s a dollar a gallon of oysters shucked … Oh God! I’d come home and I’d have to soak my arm in warm water because my whole arm was achin’ up to my shoulder.”
I worked at Walnut Lodge. There used to be a Walnut Lodge in the townsite there in Powell River, across the old court building. It was a rooming house for mill workers. So I would – on weekends, that was only on weekends, but we really needed the money, so again, the older children looked after the younger ones. And I went to work for this couple there. Their name was Mr. and Mrs. McCullough. They were from Wildwood area and they ran that boarding house. It was all men’s rooming house. So they’re all gone to work and I’m there cleaning all the rooms and making the beds and the usual housework on the weekends. And I was making about seventeen dollars a day. That was pretty good money. So every two weeks I got a cheque for about thirty-four dollars for two weekends of work. And that was quite a bit of money. So I guess that led me to applying for work at the old hospital.
And then from there I got a job at the hospital in housekeeping. And that was a lot easier than my two other jobs, my previous jobs. Housekeeping is – it was steady work. It was steady work for me. I worked for about five years there. Yeah, there weren’t many women working there from here. Actually, Marion Harry worked there for some time too. After I was working there, she worked there for a while. Yeah, that was, like, shift work. Sometimes I went to work in the evenings till eleven o’clock at night. And that was good. I did okay there. I learned how to really clean house and scrub till everything was shining. So from there, I quit work for a while there because I got pregnant and I had to stop, take maternity leave. Then I went back again. And I was there working till 1972. But that kept us going.
And then when the Sliammon Band took over their own administration of the social services department, I was asked to fill that role, simply because I was fluent in the language. And that I knew pretty much all the people that live in the community. I didn’t have any training, but I was told, “You got the ability, you can do it. Just follow the policy.” So I left my job at the hospital and took on that job. I had two weeks’ training. This wonderful man that used to work for Department of Indian Affairs would come up and show me the forms to use. And I had a crash course in how to take an application for income assistance. I had a crash course in how to encourage people to look for work, to go out on a job search. Took a crash course in children that were at risk and who had to live with other family members. All of those things. The binder was very thick in policies and procedures. We had two binders. And here I am, without any formal training or education, and to take on that work was very challenging. So two weeks is all I got, for training. And after that I was on my own.
The Last Walk
“And then you talk to the spirit of the deceased person too and you say, ‘You’re gonna go on your journey. Your children will be fine. Your family will be fine. So you can rest in peace and go on your journey.’”
Embracing loss, embracing death – that it’s all part of life. And how important that is to recognize that, to accept that. You were born one day, and you’re going to die one day. What I had always heard was that from the day you’re born, your days were marked. You cannot argue – you cannot say it wasn’t his time or her time to go. Only the Creator knows that. Only God knows that – that there is your day that you’re gonna be called.
It is our tradition to carry the body to the cemetery, to walk the casket to the cemetery, because that’s the last journey on this earth for that person. And the teachin’ was that one day someone will have to carry you there too. So you go and you help, even if it’s just two or three steps that you’ve held that casket and helped carry that casket. You’re putting your hand there. That’s what they would say to you: “Go and put your hand over there. Go and help. Even if it’s not much, but all hands workin’ together makes for easier work.” So those things are really, really important – important teachin’s.
And at the first break of daylight, you go and you help people that have lost a loved one, for them to say their final goodbye to the individual. That they are brushed, and to send them away in a good way so that they’re not going to be grieving and holding the spirits back from going on their journey. Because if you do that, if you are not willing to let go or you are not prepared to let go, then the spirit of your loved one is always going to be around. But not in a good way, because they see you grieving. They see that you’re hurting. So therefore you need to let go. And this is why we do the very early morning ritual when our loved ones leave us. With the help of an Elder or some person that’s done it before and knows how it’s done. It’s a very sacred time. It’s a sacred ceremony. And the family members come up one at a time and stand by the casket and say their goodbye, and do their own meditation in their own heart. To do some soul-searching, and give permission for the spirit to go freely, and that we will meet again in another time. And I’ve done that many times. I help people through that process: “Here’s your dad” – or your mom, whatever. “He’s going on a journey. You just say your goodbyes. Don’t hang on to him.” And then you talk to the spirit of the deceased person too and you say, “You’re gonna go on your journey. Your children will be fine. Your family will be fine. So you can rest in peace and go on your journey.” It’s your way of saying goodbye and letting go.
Then walking up the cemetery, you have to walk on each side of the road. You don’t just walk any way or be chatting. It’s a time for silence and meditation and, while you bid farewell, you walk in two lines on each side of the road, one on each side of the road going up to the cemetery. That’s allowing the spirits to walk through, so that you’re not in the way. So you make room in the middle of the road.