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

Learning by Example

People always took that time to give thanks. Never take things for granted. You always give thanks. Stop and think – give thanks for what you have. And don’t complain. Be humble. And we were taught a lot of that: be humble. Don’t show off. Don’t boast. Don’t be like this. And you were reprimanded very quickly if you didn’t keep in that manner: “You come here and you sit down.” And kids listened. It’s so different now. Attitudes have changed, and it’s totally different. I try to keep it alive. I know some people my age keep it alive and I think my own family are really good about, I think, doing things that way that I think I’ve brought down. My grandmother’s teachings, and lot of people her age, that taught – lived! Not so much teach, but lived. And you followed that example. It was not about teaching. And so sometimes I have a hard time with that when I hear people say, “I’m gonna teach you about this!” Our people did not teach, per se. Wasn’t a lot of lecture, but it was a lot of examples. A lot of legends and stories were talked about in the evenings, before you went to bed. Quite often, more times than not, we didn’t just go to bed without some kind of little story told. Or little legend. And that was your classroom: ’bout, what’s the moral of the story. And you had to stop and think. The moral of the story is, you do this or do that, this may just happen. And so it was done in a way that it was not structured. You didn’t sit down at this particular time and, “Okay! Now we’re going to do this!” You know? It just came together. And after dinner, after cleanup, we – just, I guess, like turning on the TV, and you’re gonna watch TV. We didn’t have those things, but we had something that I thought was really valuable. Really valuable.

“Stop and think – give thanks for what you have.”

Other Elders would come into our home, come for a visit. Or they’re staying, spending a few days there with us. And you’d listen to them talking. Sharing stories about their hunting or their fishing, or just their travels or the boat they’re making. The women talking about their berry picking and preserving food. Yeah. Our society was busy. A lot of learning. A lot of learning from example. I never tired of listening to legends and stories with my grandparents and other Elders, friends of my grandparents, other family members that would sit and – just exchanged – not telling so much to the children, or not directly addressing the children in their storytellin’, but they just talk about, “Oh, remember this story?” And blah, blah ... and they would go on and on about the different legends and stories and reminiscing, and you were exposed to that. You were part of that family unit. You are there in the circle, in the company of your Elders. The children were there, they listened attentively. You were disciplined in a way that was good. You sat with the Elders in a good way. You were embraced. You were included. You were not, “Go off to your room!” Unless they had something very specific that they didn’t want the children to hear, then you were separated then from that kind of discussion where it was inappropriate for children to hear. But generally it was always bringin’ the children together to listen to conversations with the Elders.

“You were part of that family unit. You are there in the circle, in the company of your Elders. The children were there, they listened attentively. You were disciplined in a way that was good.”

That was all part of the teachin’ to be respectful: “When people are talking, you listen. You don’t interrupt. When the adults are talkin’, you listen. Don’t be rude. Don’t get up and walk out of the room. We’re goin’ visiting at so-and-so’s house. When we get there, you sit next to me. Don’t be running around.” That’s teachin’ you boundaries in life. When you go to someone else’s house, you don’t go and explore and touch things. You got no right to do that. So children were taught that at a very young age: “You do not go and touch things that don’t belong to you. You be respectful to that house, to those people that live in the house. You don’t go and interrupt when people are talkin’. You’re gonna sit next to me.” So when we went somewhere, we always had to be close to our parent or grandparents. And that was so important to be taught at a very young age to respect other people’s property and other people’s boundary.

Respect. Respect is always talked about. It was always there. Inappropriate actions were not acceptable. But it was not taught in a harsh way. If you hear it every day, then it becomes your policy in life! [laughs] I guess that’s our teachin’. It’s not written, but it’s there. It’s understood. That’s how you behave. Respect. Don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to you. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. And be respectful. And don’t impose yourself on other people. Don’t be a nuisance. It’s a form of discipline at a very young age.

Our people always had their own justice system in place. And their own government. Our people governed themselves. They took care of one another. And when someone fell on the wayside, or did something to disgrace himself or the families around him, especially his family, or to have imposed any kind of hardship on someone else, or embarrass someone else, whether it was by words or action, you were made to go and apologize. By the watchman on the reserve. Or just your own family members, like your father, your grandfather, your uncle – whomever is the head of your family – would take you and you’d have to go and apologize. You would go to that other family and apologize and offer to do something to pay back what you did or offer to do some kind of work for that family. So you may have to go and cut wood for them, gather wood for them, to say, “I’m sorry for what I did.”

That was justice system in the simplest form. But so very important. You didn’t just, “Oh well.” You know? “So what if I kicked his door in or I embarrassed him by my words or whatever.” It was taken care of. And it was done co-operatively with an offender, whatever he may have done. It was very strong. It was very necessary to do that. With no question! So anything, whether it was a big or a small kind of offence, it was taken care of right now. You just didn’t walk away from your responsibility as an individual.

“Our people governed themselves. They took care of one another.”

As a child. I always remember my cousin Rose, she passed away last year, and her memories of her grandfather Chief Tom Timothy. That was my grandfather’s brother. When he was Chief, this is, like, later years. I remember Chief Tom. And this one woman was quite angry at the Chief for something or another, and she was very demanding. And she went over to him and was just very angry. And he was sitting there and she went over and she hit him with her cane. This is an elderly lady. She hit him with her cane or she hit him on his leg or whatever she did. And his daughter happened to be sitting next to him. And she got very upset and she got after the lady, and she said, “How dare you treat my father this way?” And he told his daughter, “You be quiet.”

So when they got home, he said to his daughter, “You know, daughter, you had no business to intervene. You had no business to open your mouth. That lady wasn’t addressing you, she was addressing me. She was speaking to me. She was angry at me about something. And besides, she’s an elderly person. Tomorrow, I want you to go over there and go and clean up her house. That’s my apology to that lady. Because you intervened in the process.”

“He said to his daughter ‘Tomorrow, I want you to go over there and go and clean up her house. That’s my apology to that lady.’”

So he sent his daughters over with some goods: “Take some of this food over and you tell that lady you’re sorry that you opened your mouth at that meeting. You had no business to do that.” So they had to go over there, her and another sister of hers, and they had to go and clean her house and bring her this food and apologize.

And that’s a very strong statement. Very strong – it’s a direction he’s given his own daughters about respecting people. Although people may come on to you in an angry way, you don’t necessarily have to get angry back at them and be insulting. That’s a no-no. So he carried that into his later years. He was very elderly when he passed away.

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