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

Legends about qɑyχ (Mink)

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. And that was so entertaining. And those legends always had a moral to the story. So that was your classroom. I did not go to school, myself. I don’t have formal education, per se. I didn’t go to university. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t go to high school. My lesson in life was from my grandparents. So it’s from all those legends I heard as a child – those were the lessons I learned. And you had to pay attention! When the story’s being told. And if it’s told to you night after night, you never tired of listening to those stories. It was really interesting. And our language is an oral language? It’s not a written language. So a lot of it was paying attention to what was told in the story. And then you were always asked at the end of the story, “What did you learn from that?” And so it was a real good teaching tool. You listened, you paid attention, and then the storyteller would explain to you at the end of the story, “This is what you learned from that story. If you’re gonna live this kind of life, this is how you’re gonna end up. If you’re gonna behave this way, these are the consequences.” So all of those things just happened! You didn’t get a quiz, or you didn’t do a written quiz. But it was just how much you absorbed and you learned. It became a very personal thing? It’s your life, it’s your way of life. It was not “You’re going to be marked on how much you learned,” “You’re gonna get eighty percent, a hundred percent,” or whatever. Or “You didn’t learn nothing!” [laughs]

And if you’re told that over and over again, that legend or that story, and then you knew your way. You knew what is inappropriate and what is not? You knew what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, just by listening to those stories and legends, you know.

So those were all part of the teachings and it was really, really important. So when we talk about the legends, such as Mink and the Wolf, and Mink and the Cloud, the Mink and – all the different things he married – the teachings were all in there. That he was lazy, he was unsettled, that he was very impulsive and never listened to his grandmother that was always forever trying to correct him. He was stubborn and set in his own ways. But look at the consequences. How he always ended up on a losing end, because he never listened. So those stories that were told, that was discipline in a nutshell in each of these stories, each of these legends: “What did you learn from that? What did the Mink –” or the “qɑyχ” as we call him – “What happened? Was that right what he did by marrying the cloud? By marrying the barnacle? Or marrying the salal bush? Or marrying the pitch?” It’s not compatible to any of these things. So this tells you, you’ve got to think before you act. Think before you do something. If the Elders tell you you’re making a mistake, you have to listen, pay attention. Look at what happens. So there’s always that reference made to qɑyχ. Look at what happened to him in this case! Look at what happened to him when the whale swallowed him because he made fun of the whale. He says, “Oh, you baldheaded, shiny-headed whale!” And even though this was just in his thoughts, the whale can read his mind. And the whale came along to his boat and swallowed him, boat and all. So this teaches you, you must respect all living things. The whale senses you, can read your mind, be respectful to the whale. And same as all other living creatures. You actually raise your hands to them when you see them. You respect all these things. Because you’re good to all these things, then they’ll be good to you.

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