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

Work and Welfare

I travelled a lot with them. My grandfather, he did handlogging, he fished and – not on a large scale, but just making a living off the land. He did dog fishing, gillnetting. In the summer, we would go up to Rivers Inlet where there was commercial fishing happening there. And so, he didn’t have a gas boat the first time that I remember going up there. We would go on the steamship that used to go through here. Going up there was really difficult travellin’, but that was how things were back then, where we got on the Union steamship and headed up there. And to be treated as third-class citizens, and riding down below where they keep the baggage in the boats. We would be all herded down there, all the Indian people coming on the boat. We’re straight down there.

And my grandmother would pack our food, enough to last us – I don’t know if it was two-day journey or a little more than two days – to get up to Rivers Inlet. ’Cause it pulled into other ports. And other people would come on board and they would come into this holding area where we were kept. So we had our lunch down there, our meals down there, what my grandmother prepared, and I remember one thing she packed – I always remember that – were seagull eggs. We used to eat seagull eggs. And so I guess it was around May or – ending of May, I guess. ’Cause May is the time that the seagulls lay their eggs, out at Mitlenatch Island. So people used to always get excited about that. They’d go and gather these eggs. And so she’d hard-boil them. I remember it being in a big container. And that’s what we had as one of the foods we would have at lunch. Mealtimes. They’re big. They’re really big. They’re like extra-large eggs, but they’re bigger than that, little bigger. They’re grey and speckled. Just like – I was going to say robin eggs – quail eggs, you know. But they’re so tiny. But these were huge. So, I liked them!

There were different foods that we had that I had acquired a taste for them growing up, because it’s what my grandparents ate. And a lot of it was dried. Dried deer meat. Dried clams. We used to dry clams. Lot of the foods that we ate was dried. ’Cause, of course, we didn’t have coolers or refrigerators or freezers when I was a child. So everything was dried. Smoked salmon, dried and smoked clams. Anything, dried berries even. And just eat them dry. And of course, bread. Bannock. So my granny would bring along the bread, and the rest was all basically dried foods, or jams and things like that.

Yeah, ’cause we had to pack light too. ’Cause we’d know we were staying in a small place once we got there. So we only took what was really necessary. And we packed our belongings in those big galvanized tubs. You had to bring your dishes and all that. And a few little pots and pans. And your dishes. So that all ended up in the big galvanized tub. And we used that for our bath as well – in this tub. And our blankets were put into, like, big duffle bags or sometimes they’re just tied in from the four corners, and you put all your bedding there and tie in the four corners, and away you go. But we didn’t pack heavy, ’cause we’d only be there for about two months up there. Yeah. Well, that was quite an experience. Quite different for us to travel. Because there’s no work here in the summer. And there was no welfare in those days. Our people didn’t go and apply to collect welfare. That was so foreign to our people when it first started to come.

I remember I was quite young, maybe I was around twelve or thereabouts. No one asked us if we wanted welfare, but somehow this box ended up on our doorstep. It was delivered through some outside organization. And all that was in this box was a big bag of beans and – oh gosh! I can’t remember what was all in there – probably five pounds of sugar, ten pounds of flour, that kind of a thing. And baking powder. There’s nothing really fancy. It was just staples. A lot of beans. There was always a big bag of beans and, yeah – white – always remember those. Little white beans? Still today, I don’t eat it. I don’t buy it. I think I just got all beaned out. I just didn’t – not friendly with the beans! [laughs] And the other thing was oatmeal. We’d get that – oatmeal. No milk, just that. But my grandfather couldn’t figure it out: “Why are they giving us this food?” ’Cause we never asked for it. Our people lived from food they gathered and worked for.

Our people called it “relief.” That’s what it was called. So much for a family, used to be – get the basic necessities. First it was goods, when I was young. That’s when it first started. And just a box of goods delivered to your door. And then later on, the Indian agent would come from Vancouver or the social worker for the Indian Affairs would fly in to Powell River and be here for the day. And if you wanted to make an appointment, you went there and filled out a form and was interviewed. So that was quite degrading. I don’t think anyone chooses to be on welfare. I know at first for our people it was something that was very different. Now people demand it today. People have really adapted and have adapted to that kind of a handout. And I myself, you know, it’s so degrading. To have to go and fill out – give people your history, why you need welfare.

And for quite a while there, when my kids were little, that’s when we had decided to leave in the summer and we went down the States and picked berries, and I would just leave the reserve and go up – my aunt lived in Squirrel Cove. And go there and just kind of live off the land and not have to worry about going without, ’cause the closer you are to the land, the more readily available food was. So we could’ve survived. My husband had an old boat, and he would go fishing all day, and come home with a couple of fish and that – we still survived on that.

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