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


Trading was a big part of our lives, in my grandparents’ lives. Whether it be trading to non-Native people for other goods or for other food and goods, but also to other First Nations communities where they had different types of food to trade for our goods. So that was, I guess, part of our survival. And also appreciation for other peoples’ goods or whatever they trade for. It’s almost like a part of the social fabric. To go and visit with people and just visit and trade and build relationships. Because there was not an awful lot of money for trading. It was mostly in goods. Whereas in the older day, you know, years back, when they traded with other communities, such as going to Comox or to Campbell River, Cape Mudge, where they would trade mostly for other types of foods, traditional foods that they have there that we don’t have.

That would be, like, eulachon oil – that was quite popular up the coast. Not so much in Sliammon, but the older people here did acquire a taste for it. And it’s something they put in their fish soup, or dipped the dried fish in. It’s almost like a dip. Now that is like gold to them. As it’s so hard to get anymore. It doesn’t come by as easily as it did, you know, fifty years ago. They say it’s very difficult to get now. It’s been depleted or – it’s just not there anymore. But I don’t miss it myself because it’s never been one of my favourites! [laughs]

“It’s almost like a part of the social fabric. To go and visit with people and just visit and trade and build relationships.”

And just other kinds of foods that they had, different types of foods. Or maybe they were more advanced and sometimes it was foods that they had purchased out of the store and that – like canned goods. You know, other types of foods or clothing or bedding or blankets. Whatever! They would bring dried herring, dried herring roe. That was very popular. Dried clams, which had been steamed open and dried, smoked – barbecued by the open fire, then dried. And it’s very, very dry. So when you go to eat it, you have to soak it. Or if not, you can just take it if you’re going on a trip and eat it – it’s quite chewy. So you can chew on a clam for a good hour or whatever.

And then they used to take these dried clams too, my grandparents, when we started going down to the States, or going to Chilliwack area. There used to be a hop field there. I don’t know if it’s still there. But my grandparents used to go there and pick hops for the hop season. And they would bring the dried clams and dried fish and dried herring. And they would sell it to the other people from other communities, such as people coming from that area, the First Nations people from that area? And they have a different way of drying their salmon from up that way. They wind-dry it, whereas ours is smoke-dried. So there would be that trade. Or sometimes they just paid cash for the dried goods that our people brought there.

So there was a lot of trading with foods. Dried berries was another commodity. Dried berries, dried fruits. Any kind of fruit or berries that was harvested. Because there was no deep freeze – it was traditionally dried by sun. Just out in the sun. So, and that was easy to pack too, when you are travelling. You just took some of that along with you. Didn’t take any room at all. So that was one of the things that was used for trading.

As we got to know other people, and shared with them and traded with them, of course they’d become familiar and get to know the other people that are there. They had a lot of friends up and down the coast. Sechelt, going down to Sechelt. Going up to Chilliwack. Going to the Island. So that’s like your extended kind of family kinda thing. There was no such a thing as just your brother, your sister. Everyone was your cousins, or your ʔɑyiš. That’s your relative. That’s your brother, your sister, although they may not be in blood. You still refer to them as your ʔɑyiš. That’s your relative.

Well, the trading just did not apply to foods. There were things like dugout canoes that not everybody was good at – making dugout canoes. So they would trade with whatever they can get – whether it’s labour or someone to help build a house or whatever. And the payment would be in goods like that. Canoes were also looked at as something that was very highly regarded. It had a lot of uses. So if there’s an arranged marriage, quite often what had happened would be the groom’s family would give up a canoe to the young woman’s family. So there’s another trade. And I guess when then modern tools came about, like axe and that, it was very important as a tool, as something that was treasured. And our guns – when the guns came. That was also used for trading for other things.

So in later years going trading with non-Native people – and I remember my grandmother doing this – I used to go with her to sell baskets. She would make a basket or a couple of baskets, and I’d go with her. We’d walk. Just go door to door, and sell baskets. I always remember going down to … when we had to walk to Powell River, right? Before we had cars. And walking to Powell River with my grandparents, going down the hill. So that was our stop for refreshments at that restaurant, the Chinese restaurant in Shinglemill area. And it wasn’t a big meal, but we’d stop, and my grandparents would have coffee. They enjoyed a cup of coffee there, and a piece of pie. And they made good pie – apple pie and raisin pie. Yeah. And this elderly Chinese man would always come and – pretty sure he recognized us all by then – and he’d ask what we wanted: “Coffee?” And “Pie? Lacy pie?” He’d say, “Apple pie? Lacy pie?” [laughs] And my grandfather would always order “lacy” pie. He loved raisin pie. [laughs]

“So I’m pretty sure those baskets have travelled all over the world to a lot of people that have left and gone to wherever they’ve moved to.”

Yeah, and then we’d continue to walk – whatever our business was – to go into Powell River, which was small then. The mill site. Whether it was to go and sell fish or to sell baskets – my grandmother’s baskets that she made and sold in the townsite. There’s a lot of baskets out there. I hear about a lot of baskets – families today have a lot of beautiful baskets. And all the women in the community, that’s what they did. Handwoven baskets from cedar material – cedar roots. My grandmother made beautiful, beautiful baskets. Big baskets. All different sizes and shapes, which took her, you know, days and months to make. And she got next to nothing for them once it’s made and sold in the townsite. So I’m pretty sure those baskets have travelled all over the world to a lot of people that have left and gone to wherever they’ve moved to.

So there was a lot of that here, and that was all part of, I guess, our livelihood. Going to Wildwood area once that was developed, selling baskets, selling fish – or trading with the people there for meat or chicken or vegetables, potatoes, whatever. Or just goods. I remember my granny coming to the Wildwood area – there’s a farmer there. They used to call him “the meat man.” In our language it was “mɩǰɛθ” man. So there would be a trade of things like beef or eggs – just things like that from the farm. Or potatoes. Anything that was negotiable. So that was in later times that I remember, myself – walking from Sliammon to the Wildwood area and sometimes into the townsite to trade with baskets. My granny used to be really good at bartering. She didn’t speak much English, but she knew what to ask for, whether it was men’s clothes or men’s shirts or blankets or whatever. And the lady of the house keep going back in the house – she’d bring back some more articles and, “Okay, okay, yeah. Okay.” Next thing you know she’d have a pile of clothes and a little bit of money – maybe two dollars, maybe five dollars if she was lucky. I don’t think she ever got ten dollars in cash. It was mostly clothing or other goods.

So that’s my memory of trading. And having to walk home – me carrying the goods, helping my grandmother pack this home. And then she would be back to making more baskets.

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