As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Mink and Grey Bird

This other one that I will talk about is Grey Bird. Grey Bird and qɑyχ. qɑyχ used to be always with his grandmother. Wherever his grandmother was, he was there. But he was really lazy. He was always reliant on his grandmother to look after him. And she cared for him, she looked after him. But he was so lazy. He wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t, you know, get up in the morning and go and look for food or go and have a bath in the river. And no matter what she said to him, he still went on about his way, his lazy way. So they’re camped by a river, and they’re there for some time. And Grey Bird goes up and down the river. We always see those little birds swimming about in the river. Diving down and going after little fish in the bottom. So he goes in, Grandma says, “Oh, look at Grey Bird! He’s such an ambitious little man, and he’s always doing something.” She was, you know, boasting and, you know, praising the little Grey Bird. What a nice little man he was. And qɑyχ was really angry, just really burning – doing a slow burn – because his grandmother doesn’t praise him, ’cause he’s lazy. So he’s going to show Grey Bird. He’s going to show his grandmother that he’s a bigger and a better man than Grey Bird. So he tells his grandmother, “He’s not that good. He’s not that strong. I can beat him! I’m gonna go down there by the water’s edge, and the next time he’s going by, I’m going to call him to come to shore, and I’m gonna beat him. I’m gonna beat him up. I’m gonna wrestle with him and – and you’ll see who’s a better man.” And his grandmother advised him against it. “Don’t you be doing that! That’s not right. Why would you want to challenge someone to a fight when they’re not doing anything to you? Just leave him alone.” Nope. He was determined, he was going to show his grandmother he’s a better man. So, Grey Bird goes by. He goes down to the beach. “Grey Bird, come here! I want to challenge you to a fight. I want to challenge you to a wrestling match.” Grey Bird looks at him and says, “Why?” “I just want to show you I’m a better man than you.” And Grey Bird says, “I don’t think so. I’m just minding my own business here. You mind your own business and leave me alone.” So Grey Bird goes up the creek and he’s coming back again and he’s down there again. So this went on for a couple of days, and Grey Bird finally says to him, “Well, you know, I’m going up the river. You think about it. When I come back down, if you still want to – if you’re still determined to have a wrestle match with me – then we’ll do it. I don’t wanna do it, so think about it.” Oh good. He’s happy with that. Runs and tells his grandmother, “Grey Bird, when he comes back, he’s agreed to have a wrestling match with me.” “I want you to be ready,” he says to his grandmother. “I’ll wrestle him. And when I get him on the ground, when I’ve pinned him down to the ground, I want you to be ready. I want you to be ready with a shovelful of hot coals from that fire. And you throw it on his face.” And grandmother didn’t want to do it. But he always managed to talk her into doing things that was going against the grain. He persuaded her. He was a very persuasive little person. So Grandma was there with her shovel ready on hand. Grey Bird comes by. “Okay, come on!” Uh, reluctantly, Grey Bird comes out of the water and they have a go at this fight. They’re wrestling all over the place. They’re all around near about the fire and there’s dust and, you know, ash flying all over. And Grandma is there with her shovel, and she’s ready to dump this hot coal on the one that’s gonna be on the bottom. And for all the dust that was flying, it was hard to see who was who. Finally, one is pinned to the ground. And Grandma’s there with her shovel, and she throws this hot coals, hot ash on the one on the bottom. Well, lo and behold! One went running to the water and was gone. And qɑyχ sat up. His face is all covered with hot ash and hot coals. He had burns all over. And he got really mad at his grandmother. “Why did you go and do that for? You’re supposed to throw that hot ash on the one that was on the bottom.” And Grandma said, “You’re the one that was on the bottom. I threw it on the right person.” Oh, but he wouldn’t accept that. He was quite annoyed at his grandmother. He wasn’t going to admit that he was in the wrong. So that story is about bullying, and I always, you know, the old people that used to tell these stories would say, you know, “That’s what happens when you bully people. When you don’t mind your own business. You know, you don’t go and challenge people. You don’t go bother other people. You leave them alone. Don’t act tough. Don’t act smart. You’re the one that’s going to get hurt. And don’t, you know, don’t defy your grandmother or grandfather. That’s what happens when you don’t listen. You’re the one that gets hurt.” So with that story, and the way it’s told, you know, always made us think when we were children, you think twice before you do something. Think twice before you go and challenge someone to a fight. Leave well enough alone. Mind your own business. And it’s a good learning tool. It sure has a powerful effect on children when you tell it to them in that way. That they need to, you know, mind their boundaries and respect other people, other human beings, or other animals, and pay attention, pay attention to grandmother. So that’s the end of that one.

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