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


The old-timers, years ago, I used to see a lot of them, they were very, very independent. They were really up and moving, and self-reliant, and as old as some of them were, they were still able to get out. I’d see old people down the beach gathering wood for their fire with a cane. They’re walking around with a cane. And I used to see an old lady always – every day in the summer, walkin’ along the beach packing the big basket on her back and gathering wood, piling it for later use. With her cane she’d be walking along the beach gathering driftwood. She didn’t go and expect someone – “Come cut my wood for me,” or “Bring me wood.” She was self-reliant! So a lot of the older people were very, very hard, where they were used to hard work. They were used to doing things for themselves. And that has become different now too, you know, that there’s more resources – or more help for people that are getting on in age, and more services for people. In a way it’s good. Our Elders need that service today. But it’s there now, whereas it wasn’t there before.

But thinking back on how resourceful the older people were, the Elders, back in the day of my grandmother, they never sat down. They never said, “Come and do this for me,” or “Do that for me.” They did everything to the best of their ability. Hard work. There was a lot of hard work. But that was the lifestyle. It was the lifestyle, it was acceptable. It was good. Life is so precious that you utilize your every waking moment doing something constructive. And I think today that it’s pretty difficult to bring the two, the youth and the Elders, together, for the Elders to share with the youth the kind of lifestyle they had, and how hard it was for them growing up – or the expectations, maybe, from the Elders to the youth that “this was how I grew up, and it was hard. We worked hard. But we were resourceful.”

“Life is so precious that you utilize your every waking moment doing something constructive.”

And to be saying that to the youth that have totally different outlook in life, sometimes I think can be hard on the youth? The children? It’s like you’re judging them and where they are today. And I think it’s really important to just share your history and how you grew up and what times were like when you were growing up, and what times were like in my grandmother’s time, and the stories that I hear about how things were in my great-grandparents’ time. It was totally different lifestyle. And in order to honour the youth today, we need to just share that history with the young people, with our grandchildren, that this is how it was, and it’s good for them to know all that. That’s history. But not to condemn their lifestyle today. ’Cause it’s totally different. It’s a different world.

“It’s important for them to know that history, our history, which was never really documented.”

But one thing that never changes is the respect for one another. Whether it was that lifestyle and how they lived, and where you came from – that’s where you came from. That’s your roots. That you respect that. That’s history: “That was my great-grandparents!” And it’s a good thing. It’s important for them to know that history, our history, which was never really documented. There’s nowhere that says, to show them, “This is how it was.” But I think it’s important for them to know.

And those same kind of rules and guidelines needs to apply to young people. No matter what they do in life. That respect is the most important thing. That boundaries – other people’s boundaries – to respect people no matter what colour or race or who they are in life. That first of all they’re human beings. That they are just as important as you or anyone else. And that you treat them accordingly. To live in harmony with nature and every living thing. To be respectful to everything around you. To be always, I don’t know, just to respect who you are as a person. But not to be boastful of who you are. It’s be yourself, just do the best you can in life, and not to put yourself above anyone else: “Oh I’m better.” Or to be judgmental to other people.

That was our teachin’. That was the life. It’s not so much teachin’, but you lived it from the time you’re little, to treat other people this way, to treat the animals this way, to treat life this way, to treat the universe this way.

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