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

The Young Girl and Eleven Puppies

In the winter months, when the darkness came early, and you’d sit by the open fire or by the stove, and the grandparents or your parents would tell stories – legends. I’m gonna tell the story about the young girl and eleven puppies. This story has been told many times by different people, and maybe each time it’s got a different twist to it, or a different interpretation. But the way I’ve heard it is how I will tell it. Some will believe that our origin is from the dog family, which is an interpretation of sorts. But the way I understand it, when it was told to us as children, was that it’s a lesson to be learned. It was like a teaching tool, that we pay attention to the story, and what’s the moral to the story. So this is how the story goes.

There was this young girl, young teenage girl. And she was always told by her mother, her grandmother, “Stay away from the boys. Don’t be hanging out with the boys. Stay away. You don’t want to get in trouble. We don’t want you to get in trouble by hanging out with the boys. That’s not acceptable.” And she did. She stayed away from the boys. But there was this one boy in particular that she’s watchin’ – watchin’ him. And he’s chewing gum. And she sees him chewing gum. And the gum in those days was the pitch from the fir tree. So he’s chewing gum and she’s really wishing for some of that gum: “Oh, I’d like to get some of that gum.” So she says to her little brother, “Would you please go over there and ask that young boy over there, that young man, for a piece of his gum?” And so the little boy runs over there, speaks to the young man: “My sister would like a piece of your gum. Would you give her a piece?” So he thought for a moment and then he said, “Well, go back and tell your sister that I’ll give her a piece of my gum only if she swallows her saliva.” So the little guy went back, told his sister. “Oh sure, that’s not a problem,” she said. “I will swallow my saliva.” So he goes back, okay, gives her a piece of his gum. And from that the young girl got pregnant. And they were living in a small community. All the family members, all living in a small community. And when she started to show, her pregnancy started to show, people knew she was pregnant. So that was really not acceptable. She’s a young girl, she doesn’t have a husband, and here she is pregnant. So it was really not accepted at all. They had a meeting with the leaders in the community and family members, and they decided to abandon her. So everyone packed up to leave the community. They moved camp. And it was decided to leave her there to fend for herself.

But she had a grandmother that cared a lot for her. And Grandmother felt very sad, very upset that they were leaving her behind. But they also had a little puppy in the family, and Grandmother decided to leave that puppy with the young girl. So of course, they all pack up to leave and along comes Raven. He was such a trickster and always out to do damage, or to hurt people or … he was doing the ultimate disgrace to this young girl that has disgraced the community. So he went dowsing the fires, campfires all over the community. Dowsed the campfires with water. And Grandmother took a hot coal, or ember. She had this big clamshell, and she put a hot ember into this clamshell. In the meantime, the young girl was out picking berries. She’d gone out that morning gathering. And before they left camp, the grandmother said to the puppy, “You lead her to this hot ember. I will hide it over here, and you should go and show her when she comes back.” So off they went, and they just all left, and the young girl came from her gathering. And the little puppy was all excited and running around in circles and barking and, you know, kept running to this one area. Everything was out. There’s no smoke, no fire to be seen. So she finally followed the puppy to this area. And sure enough there was a hot ember there, she could see a bit of smoke. So that’s how she got her fire started. She started a fire and she stayed there. She had no choice but to stay there. And she survived. She would go gathering. She lived off shellfish and other … she knew how to survive. It was a real struggle for her.

So the day finally came that she had her babies, which turned out to be eleven puppies. They were born, and they were eleven puppies. And she was really, really sad. Couldn’t figure it out – why did this happen? “Why did I give birth to eleven puppies here?” They’re ten male and one female. But she had no choice but to look after and care for these puppies and feed them. And the grandmother would come now and again to visit her, and she seen what was going on, what had happened. And she would talk and visit with her. And as time went on again, she would go down the beach in the winter months, ’cause the tide is out during the night. She would light a torch and go down the beach to dig clams. So she’s way down the beach and she hears all this commotion going on in the house. There’s chanting, there’s singing, there’s just a whole lot of noise – there’s drumming – and she doesn’t know what is going on. She picks up her torch and she walks up to the house. When she’s getting close to the house, all of a sudden all this commotion would stop and it’s all quiet and silent. She would walk into the house and they’d be all sleeping. They’re all huddled together by the fire. And she doesn’t know what is going on. Then another night she would go down again to dig more clams for their food, and the same thing would happen again. Her house just seemed to come alive, and there’s a lot of noise and celebration going on. So the third time that this happened, she thought, “I’m going to sneak up on the house and see what is going on.” So she left her torch beside a big huge rock, big boulder. And she stuck around to the shaded area, and she snuck up to her house. And what she found when she got close to the door was the young girl sitting outside the door. She was the watch. She was watching out for her mother, and she would be the one to let the others know someone was coming. So when she came up, she snuck up, and she got into the building really quick, and all the dancing was going on, this celebration, this chanting and drumming. And she came into the building – here were all her sons. They were men, they were not puppies anymore. They were men. And they were dancing, and they were naked, and they were just dancing around the fire and having a good time and happy. And their hide was all piled in a neat pile. She ran over there, and she grabbed all this fur, the pile of hide, and she threw it onto the fire. And the little girl managed to get a small piece of it, and she stuck it on her hand. So all her life she had this little fur patch on her hand. So they lost their hide, and they became men.

They were pretty much grown by now – they were young men. And she said to them, “Okay. We have to do something. We’ve gone through a lot of difficult times because of our situation here. We’ve been disgraced by our community. We’ve been abandoned by our community. You are young men now. You need to train, you need to learn survival. We need to get our identity back with our community. We need to prove ourselves. You need to prove yourselves, that you are strong men. So you all pick what you wanna be, whoever wants to be the hunter, who wants to be the fisherman, who wants to do one thing or another. What are you going to do? What are you gonna hunt for? Each one of you has to make that decision so we can prove ourselves, you can prove yourselves to be real men. Hunters and fishermen. And then when all that is done, we’re going to ask our people, our community to come together and we’ll have a nohom.” “nohom” means a feast. “We’ll give a feast to our people.” So they all sat around very silent thinking about this. Finally one says, “Okay. I will be the fisherman.” The other one says, “I will go and hunt for deer.” One says, “I will go hunt for mountain goat.” All eleven of them picked their choice of what they were going to do, go after, what they’re going to do to bring food into the family. And the young girl says, “I am going to be the one that prepares the food at home and preserves the food, and I will look after the home.” So all this decided, this is what they did. They all had their designated area or their choice of what they’re going to do to bring food into the home. So off they went. And the grandmother would come and visit, and so she was updated on what was happening, but she didn’t tell her community about all this. It was kept quiet.

“They became self-reliant through a lot of hard work and a lot of mending their lives. The young girl had learned her lesson the hard way. But she survived because of her determination to uplift herself and to prove to her community that she could change her life.”

So after all was said and done, it was finally time to invite the community to come for a feast. So they did this. Grandmother went home and told her community what has happened. So they were invited on a certain day to come. They arrived, and all this food was laid out on the beach. It was on a long log, a long big log laying on the beach. Driftwood. And there was your prime mountain goat, your prime deer, whatever – all kinds of food, all lined up. And the very end of the line was a dogfish, which people didn’t really eat. It’s the lowest grade of fish. So who’s there first but Raven? He’s so excited! He’s so happy. He’s gonna get a good feed, and he’s the first one in line, jumping around, hopping around: “Oh, is this mine?” And he starts right at the top of the line, “Is this mine? Is this mine?” And they would tell him, “No! That’s not yours. No, that’s not yours.” All the way down the line. When he got to the end of the line, and they told him, “That’s yours. The dogfish is yours.” So that’s a lesson to the Raven. He’s the trickster. He was always there to make sure other people suffered the consequences – which he deemed to be their consequences – of their actions.

And so that’s what happened with them. They became people. They became self-reliant through a lot of hard work and a lot of mending their lives. The young girl had learned her lesson the hard way. But she survived because of her determination to uplift herself and to prove to her community that she could change her life. And she could become a good person and prove to her community by giving a feast, a nohom, and become respectable again. So that’s that story.

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