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

Standing up for What I Believe In

So I stayed on that job and I worked in my community for twenty-four and a half years on that job. I really wanted to get to twenty-five years, and I was going to walk away. ’Cause it was getting really hard and after doing that same kind of work for that many years, it gets really heavy. But at the same time, I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed working with people. And there were a couple of times that I thought, “I can’t do this anymore,” but then I stuck it out. Well, twenty-four years, and I was getting really burned out and I just – that’s it, I quit. It was starting to affect my health too. Then the posting came out for part-time Elders’ worker, looking after the Elders’ program. So I applied for that.

And then I was on Council during that time. I was elected as a Councillor in the community. So there I was, first woman Councillor. And actually it was my second time around. Because when I was quite young I ran for Council and I got in, at that time, back in Bill Galligos’s time. He was the Chief at that time. And my brother-in-law, George Blaney, was on Council with me. So we were small. There was really no business, no office, nothing. So it was just a matter of Indian Affairs coming or the Indian agent coming to the community and, “Oh, sign this. Sign this.” And quite often the Chief would come to my house and say, “Can you sign this document? Indian Affairs needs this document.” So it was really just in very early stages of looking after our own affairs. And it was small. So that was my first time around. Then I ran again and I got into Council again – for a year and a half I was in, the second time around. A two-year term. And so things kind of went sideways. Things were not working well and so that was a real difficult time, really hard time, doing social work and doing that as well. So our term ended after a year and a half as a group. Six Councillors, I guess at the time, ’cause the population was growing quite a bit. So we prematurely ended our term.

But I stayed on in social work. I continued that work. So when I left that position in social work, I then went and applied for that position working with the Elders. So that was half-time. But I actually moved into the facility before that. Actually I occupied the building because it was decided by leadership at that time that that house was going to be given to a family. And I felt it shouldn’t be used that way. I felt it should serve the community as a whole. So I dug my heels in about that, making that decision for a family to be moved there, which I felt was not necessary or it wasn’t meant to be that. So I said, “Over my dead body you’re going to do this.” I said, “I’m holding the key. I’m gonna move in there.” So I went against the Council as a whole. Came home, packed my bags, packed my belongings, and I moved in. And I stayed there.

The leader at the time came to me and says, “I want those keys!” I said, “No way. No way am I giving you the keys to the lodge.” So he’s standing there like this over my desk. [imitating] I said, “And take off those glasses,” I said to him. He was wearing dark glasses. And he really threatened me: “You’re gonna be fired.” But they didn’t fire me.

I managed to squeak by and ended up in the lodge and camped there – they’re going to have to drag me out of here. So anyway, as it was we didn’t finish our term ’cause things were happening that caused us to be, um, how did we put that? A group of community members decided things were not going right in the community, and asked for resignations. They didn’t ask me for a resignation, but they named some of the Councillors, asked for their resignation. And they did, and I thought, “I’m going to resign too.” I just handed in my resignation voluntarily.

I felt I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But I just felt we had to start over. So there was a real breakdown then in our system. But I continued to stay there and of course Indian Affairs intervened, like, what are we doing again, to save us from ourselves. So I continued to stay there and continued to work, and when I retired, then I applied for the Elders’ position, ’cause I was already living there.

“So while I was there I looked after the Elders’ programs, and I look after the house. I cooked for the Elders. I fundraised for the Elders.”

Elders – a half-time position. So I was there for – how many years was I there? Was it nine years? In ’99 was when I left there, ’cause my health got to a point where I needed to take care of myself. And that’s when I left that home. So while I was there I looked after the Elders’ programs, and I look after the house. I cooked for the Elders. I fundraised for the Elders. So it was more than full-time position. And I was quite comfortable in that big house. I lived alone there, but the days were very busy.

The Elders would come and we’d have our social gatherings – almost every day the Elders were coming. And I was responsible for cooking their meals and lunches and entertainment. We’d just sit around. It was really a nice group of Elders we had. It was quite enjoyable, always planning for something to do. And I ended up doing most of the work, ’cause the Elders were quite elderly then. But it was really an enjoyable time. It was hard, but it was enjoyable.

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