• First Day

    In 1966, a couple weeks after I turned 18, I moved into the women’s dorm on my first day of university and met the other dormies, including Paula. She was tall and loose and smart. She smoked Marlboros and wore stylish brown jeans and phoned her mum every Sunday. She had dark hair and dark eyes, also dark skin, which I assumed was a great suntan. The girls in our wing studied and ate and hung out together, and one day Paula said she was an Indian— Chippewa, now known as Ojibwe. Those were the days when middle-class WASP kids like me were finding out what a load of codswallop we’d grown up on—systemic racism, sexism, classism, the corruption of the Vietnam War, etc.—yet Paula was the first Indigenous person we had ever seen, let alone known. Suntan! Gawd. All of my “knowledge” of “Indians,” living their simple, primitive lives, in tepees, close to the earth, dressed in rawhide with beads and fringes, and speaking in crude bits of English (“How!”), began to give way.

  • Andy the Indian

    1974. I was nineteen, living in Radium Hot Springs and working in a bar in the National Park Hotel, which is gone now but stood at the junction of the highways where a trucker had let me off—I’d hitchhiked down from Golden. It was a bar frequented mostly by loggers and hippies, and people like me who didn’t know where they belonged. I walked into the worn hotel lobby, where an Indian man—that was the right word back then—was sitting on a wooden bench beside the front desk, also the Greyhound station, looking down at the ragged old carpet. He raised his head, looked up at me with a shy, toothy grin. “Hey, little big fella!” he said, and laughed. “Hi,” I said, wondering what he meant. “That’s Andy,” said the crippled man behind the counter. “Don’t mind him. Don’t you have something to do, Andy?” Apparently not. Andy worked for Kirk’s Christmas trees, I later learned, and there was no work for him right then so Andy was killing time in the hotel. I landed a job, and saw him often after that, in the lobby, the bar, the café. Andy hardly ever spoke. On a Friday or Saturday night if he was liquored up and I was liquored up we exchanged laughs and jokes—“Why is under a bridge the best place to fish when it’s raining? Because the fish go under there so they don’t get wet.” What a groaner. Andy was the love interest of a waitress who worked in the coffee shop—waitress was the right word then—and she lived up the street in one of the motels. Hummer, as she was called, though her name was actually Maureen, was a small and chipper woman, nuts about Andy, and she wasn’t about to let anyone else wait on him, either. There she was with the Pyrex coffee pot the minute he sat down. There she was straightening his collar, and offering to do his wash, and she was a little suspicious of Andy and my exchanges. I had just turned nineteen. Had never hitchhiked so far; had never worked in a bar; had never met an Indian. I liked our casual friendship. He called me “Jilly Con Carne.” He didn’t want anything of me. He was so shy, doubly so when he was sober. In retrospect I see how vulnerable he was, how damaged, gentle, and completely without malice toward anyone. He’s stayed with me all these years.

  • Change

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    My mother, and her nephew and niece were heavy drinkers, living in this site here on Number 3 Reserve, Nanaimo First Nation. They drank every week, much to their own destruction and pain. But low-and-behold, one time they’re listening to a religious station – person called Don Gauset. 1960 – I think it was January of 1960. He’s a pentecost evangelist (whatever you want to call them): very vibrant, very vociferous, and commanding in his presentation; and had affected my mother, Harry, Johnny, and Sally Paul. Continue reading “Change”

  • First Time

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    When my daughter was eight months old we caught a cab to our home in Prince Rupert. It was about a ten-minute ride. And the guy turns around and says “Where you wanna go?” It was a black man. It was the first time she saw a black man. And she screamed. And cried and screamed all the way home. Every time she looked at him she cried again. And she grew up and ended up marrying one.

  • Our Treaty And Our Wishes

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    We’ve got so many stories that I can go for at least hours and hours some days. Just a couple of things we had in our treaties is one of the whaling rights, we had given up, right around 275,000 acres of land, specifically for whaling, sealing, hunting, fishing, and gathering of shellfish. We were the only ones in the US that have a treaty that says so, and possibly even in the world. I’m not sure how exactly many countries have a treaty that give them a right to go whaling. But our treaty was very specific in what we wanted. Continue reading “Our Treaty And Our Wishes”

  • Herring Roe

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    I remember my first time really coming into contact with the aboriginal culture was in elementary school. And a young boy brought in a 5 gallon bucket full of herring roe on seaweed… Continue reading “Herring Roe”

  • Namwayut, We Are All One

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    You know there are no words even beyond memorable for this person that I love so much. It was my paternal grandmother, her name was, Thunder Bird Lady. She used to say to me and my other cousins of course, “I am nothing my precious one.” There will be long silence and I wonder what “what are you talking about” Continue reading “Namwayut, We Are All One”

  • Ready For It

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    About 90 – I guess 1992 – my wife and I at the time had the misfortune of losing our first child. It was a pretty dark time. I was selling photocopiers – Sharp photocopiers – at the time out of Duncan. I had a lot of contacts with First Nations – Mid-Island Tribal Council (which I don’t think exists anymore) and a few others as well. Continue reading “Ready For It”

  • Continuum

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    Adam Shewish, the late hereditary Tyee Ha’wilth – the hereditary chief of the Tseshaht – and I worked quite closely together for a number of years. I was working with him, his wife, Margaret Shewish, and his aunt, Auntie Mable Taylor. I was telling them a story that I had read. It was about a 100 year-old story being recorded – the recording had been 100 years ago. Continue reading “Continuum”

  • Carving Legacy

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    I’ve been carving Native art, from small pieces to large pieces including: totem poles, doors, panels, for the last thirty years now. I hadn’t really got too involved with art in my younger days. I was too much involved in politics. Continue reading “Carving Legacy”