Once again the Similkameen Pow Wow at the Ashnola Campground was a spectacular, uplifting event. The big drum boomed almost constantly, dancers in colourful and elaborate regalia swirled with energy, often with ecstasy and joy. Superbly organized, it honoured the culture of the people. Lauren Terbasket, a member of the organizing group described it as a celebration of life. Certainly the upbeat atmosphere suggested an attitude of celebration on the part of participants and spectators. Most of the action was on the dance floor but on the far side of the open structure, Linda and I were surprised to see numerous booths. Small time entrepreneurs were selling clothes, beads, jewelry, food and various momentos.
One of our purposes in attending was to record the Pow Wow for the blog. We found the dancers very willing to be photographed, as though this was a recognition of their efforts in producing their splendid regalia. Without exception they gladly and unhesitatingly answered our questions, in some cases smiling as they spoke. For us, dialoguing with a number of the dancers was one of the highlights.
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band Pow Wow last year featured a beguiling pageantry of colourful regalia, swirling dancers, gifted singers, booming drums, symbolism, and a continuous line up for fried bread. Wanting to at least somewhat understand the cultural significance of the event, Linda and I recently invited Lauren Terbasket, one of the primary organizers, to our home. She arrived with her father John Terbasket, a respected band elder, daughter Tiinesha and granddaughter Nia. We learned that there are layers of meaning that would easily elude uninformed guests.
Held at the Ashnola Camp Ground on the Labour Day weekend, the Pow Wow is the second biggest in B.C. About 250 dancers and singers are expected this year from places like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington State and Montana. Spectators will number up to 2000.
“Many had kind of lost the connection with our culture,” Lauren began. “But it’s coming back and this is a good feeling.” She reflected a moment and smiled. “It’s a social event, an opportunity to meet people, a celebration of life. We celebrate peace, interact with family, and talk about hunting, fishing, and life events. Our objective is to bring life to the people. Even if people don’t have much in life, when they come they sense the energy and the happiness. They feel drawn to the singing and dancing.”
When Linda and I talked with dancers and singers last year, they invariably mentioned the time required to do the intricate beadwork. “The beadwork is all different,” Lauren explained. “Often it has a history, possibly of the family. It may represent a dream, a vision, or a life event. The regalia and the dancing are judged in a competition. Prizes are awarded.”
When I asked who organizes the Pow Wow, Lauren said, “it’s mostly the Terbaskets and Allisons. Our family has 15+ members on the committee. We all pitch in at the event. My sister Karen is a trained chef so she runs the kitchen. Janet, an RCMP officer, assists with logistics and security. Kathy looks after admissions to the grounds. Wendy does the books, keeping tabs on the competition totals. (A 6th sister Geniene, an attorney, was killed in an automobile accident.) Community members contribute raffle items, clean and cook. We appreciate the community’s contributions.”
A Masters Candidate in education, Lauren views the Pow Wow as an opportunity to influence future leaders. “We teach the young ones certain protocols. How to conduct themselves honourably in public, be polite, socialize in a healthy way, and respect elders.” A lot of the singers and dancers go on to become council members and chiefs in their bands. The Pow Wow is a place to develop connections and public skills.
Band leaders understand the importance of starting the children at a young age. “If they’re exposed early, they dance,” Lauren told us. “We help them with beadwork to get them started. Older children help younger ones.”
Lauren’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her granddaughter sitting on Tiinesha’s lap. “Nia is 4 months. We’re already working on her regalia. Someone will hold her for the dancing.”
Moving on to another aspect of the Pow Wow, Lauren said, “In the past our standing was measured by what we could give. Not by what we possessed. We are teaching the children the importance of giving back. When my grandson Krishon dances, he is giving of his energy and lifestyle. He will also give away some of the money he wins in the competitions. Some families will give gifts like blankets and food. It brings honour to their families and blessings to the community.”
She emphasized that the Pow Wow is an alcohol free event. “Bringing alcohol would be disrespectful. You represent your family and community. If someone shows up with alcohol, they will be asked to leave. Well, maybe they will be fed first, then escorted out. That hasn’t happened in recent years.”
During the weekend, the organizers and other band members work 18-20 hours a day. “Even though we’re exhausted,” Lauren said, “we feel a joy from giving to the community. The blessing is a big, beautiful family that truly understands the importance of giving.”
Superbly organized, this high octane, family friendly Pow Wow is an opportunity for the Similkameen community to join the band in celebrating life. The organizers invite everyone to come and enjoy this event.
Part 1 of 2. John Terbasket’s early life could have warped him to be bitter, angry, confused and addicted to alcohol. In a lengthy conversation with Linda and me in our home, he spoke candidly about his life as a member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, the people, experiences and understandings that made him a respected role model and leader rather than a disgruntled derelict. He expressed pride in his family and people, but didn’t attempt to gloss over the issues still confronting the band.
“My father was an alcoholic,” he told us. “When I was about 7, my mother died. I went to live with an older sister, then with an uncle and aunt. At age 10 I stopped going to school and started cowboying for my Uncle Barney Allison.”
Wanting John to get an education, at age 16 Uncle Barney sent him to a residential school in Cranbrook. “They ran it like a prison,” John remembers. “At night young children cried and I tried to comfort them. We weren’t allowed to speak our language. If we did, they gave us a toothbrush and made us clean 3 flights of stairs.”
Later the residential school experience gave him an understanding that helped him as a band leader. “I went to a reunion 15 years after leaving the school,” he said. “Many of my former classmates had become alcoholics. Some were dead. I saw that the residential school had left the survivors feeling lost.”
John married Delphine at about age 20. Many of their friends were enmeshed in an alcoholic lifestyle and for a time they followed the same path.
Fortunately he was blessed with several excellent role models. His uncle Barney Allison told him, “You don’t have much education. You will have to work. Take whatever job you can get and learn as many trades as possible.” John accepted this advice and for some years worked in logging, orcharding and cowboying.
At age 30 he agreed to take his brother and sister-in-law to AA meetings two evenings per week for a month. “When the month was over,” he said, “they stopped attending, but I continued. I remembered how it had been in our home because of my father’s drinking. Sometimes there were no groceries. I didn’t want our children to grow up like that. My wife and I both turned away from alcohol.”
His Uncle Bobby, also a successful rancher, told him, “things are going to change. We will need people with an education.” When the band offered to send John to the Cody International Institute in Nova Scotia, he accepted. Not long after, he was appointed to be the band’s first administrator.
“I came out of the orchard to be administrator,” he said. “I didn’t have the experience or knowledge to make things happen. The Elders helped me get a more clear vision of what was needed. Also, Uncle Barney had been elected band chief. He had a vision for our people. He got things started.”
John grew in the understanding that the residential schools, in denying children their language and culture, had stripped away their indigenous identity. “People were confused,” he said. “They didn’t feel they were part of either culture. They turned to alcohol to escape the memories of abuse in the schools. When they had children, they didn’t know how to be parents, so the confusion was passed to the next generation. There was dissension between those who had been in residential schools and those who had not.”
The Elders advised him “you have to help our people with sobriety before you start bringing in a lot of money. Then the money will be used for good purposes.”
Realizing he had much to learn, John listened carefully to the Elders. “Initially we emphasized education and jobs,” he said. “Then we began to understand that to become resilient and confident, young people needed to become immersed in the culture of our people. That would give them an identity they could be proud of. Five years ago we revived the annual Pow Wow at the Ashnola Camp Ground. A lot of our young people are participating.”
Now 78, John is grateful for his family and appears thoroughly grounded philosophically and emotionally. He credits his uncles and the Elders with enabling him to have a part in the positive band developments. Next week: the Ashnola Pow Wow.
As happens so often, we were sitting at the table in our sun room in Hedley. Derek Lilly was drinking his coffee black and reflecting on his Metis heritage. “The history books don’t tell the whole story about who played significant roles in Canada’s early development,” he said.
Derek was 10 when he came to Hedley with his mom and stepfather. “I looked up at the mountains and felt at home immediately. About a year later the folks decided to move on. I didn’t like their lifestyle so I stayed with my grandparents. They had moved here earlier and were pretty straight people.” His decision to stay was an early demonstration of an ability to make sound choices.
“Although my mom appeared aboriginal, I wasn’t really aware of my Metis heritage at that time. It wasn’t talked about in the family. On my birth certificate I was actually registered as French. They just tried to fit in,” he said.
In grade 10 he dropped out of school and joined the armed forces. After a 4 year stint he returned to Hedley and worked for the One Way Adventure Foundation as a youth counsellor. Here his friendship with a young couple resulted in a spiritual conversion. “This produced a change in how I looked at life,” he said. “I married Noree and not long after we moved to Winnipeg. There I earned a BA in General Studies at Providence University College and Seminary.” Courses such as logic, ethics and philosophy suggest he already had the capacity to mentally wrestle with difficult issues.
In 2004 Derek was hired by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band to run their tourism program. “They were just completing the stairs high up the mountain at the Mascot Mine. I was involved in developing tours. It was during this time that Phillippe, band business manager, encouraged me to check out my Metis heritage. I followed his advice and it changed my life.”
He learned that one of his early grandfathers, John McIver, had come from Scotland. The other, James Lilly, had emigrated from England. Both were probably less than 20 years old. “They worked for the Hudsons Bay Company as fur traders,” he said. “James Lilly’s Day Book is still in the HBC archives in Winnipeg.” Like many European men, they took aboriginal wives and had families. McIver’s first wife was Inuit. When she died, he married a Metis woman.” Unlike some, both McIver and Lilly stayed with their wives and children.
“In 1811 the HBC granted a large tract of land to Lord Selkirk. He created the Red River Colony, now Winnipeg, near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers,” Derek said. “He wanted to provide land for retired fur traders. he lots were long, each with frontage on the Red River. My forebears were among the Metis who received lots.”
The Metis were prosperous farmers for a time, but their lives were not trouble free. Difficulties included an infestation of locusts, drought, the government’s desire to push them out, and the Riel Rebellion. Eventually they sold their lots and dispersed to various locations.
In time, some of the Lilly family made the migration to Hedley. For Derek this was fortuitous because it led him into his Metis past. He needed to rigorously study Aboriginal history and culture to run the Mascot Tours, and then represent the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. in their Pavillion at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He also organized tours of Stanley Park for the association’s Klahowya Village.
I asked Derek how his life has been impacted by his Metis heritage. “I never knew my dad,” he said. “What I’ve learned about our history has helped me understand where I came from, who I am, and where I’m going. I also have a better understanding of my mom’s life. Learning about the role of my ancestors in building Canada has given me a greater sense of belonging in this country, a sense of pride.”
Derek has contributed to the Hedley community. He was Fire Chief for 18 years and still serves as duty officer one day a week. Currently he is on the Hedley Grace Church Leadership Team. When he retires from his job as an industrial electrician at the pellet plant, he hopes to be more involved in Aboriginal work. The young man who quit school in grade 10 has done a lot to make Metis and Aboriginal people proud.
As Linda and I parked across the street from the Ashnola Campground on Saturday, we could hear the distinct, steady boom of a large drum. Somewhat akin to the toll of a village church bell summoning the faithful, the drum was announcing that afternoon’s session of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band Pow Wow. At the entrance to the circle of bleachers, we saw dancers in elaborate, colourful regalia assembling for the Grand Entry into the performance arena. We were about to experience the Similkameen Pow Wow of Champions.
In a phone conversation several days earlier, one of the organizers, Wendy Terbasket had told me a Pow Wow is “a social and contest event. There are competitions in singing, dancing and drumming. The dancing is about prayer,” she said. “While dancing you think about people who can’t.”
We would also learn it is about family and culture. Some of the dancers were barely past the learning to walk stage. Young parents and grand parents were making an effort to keep the children involved.
Noticing a man in an especially intricate regalia, I asked if I could take his photo. He agreed readily and told us he is a Blackfoot (Siksika) from Alberta. His name is Leon Crane Bear and he has an M.A. in Native American Studies.
The ceremony began with a brief talk and prayer by an Elder. She prayed earnestly for her people, especially youth who have gone astray. “We must love them and give them a hug,” she said. She also prayed for people with cancer and other illnesses, and those who have passed on. I sensed her deep desire to see the values and culture of her people transmitted to the next generation.
The dancers, a wonderful splash of colour, now proceeded with great dignity onto the grass floor of the arena. Here their pent up excitement and energy was released in eye pleasing dances, accompanied by drumming and singing. There were too many to count, children, youth, adults and some elderly individuals. It was an impressive moment of joy and exhilaration for dancers and audience.
I wandered away several times from the arena to speak with individual dancers waiting to perform. Moonlite was one of the princesses honoured by the MC. Some of her brief address to the audience had been in the Okanagan language. She permitted me to take several photos and said her ambition is to become a psychologist.
I also spoke with Tyler Jensen. His outfit had cost him about $1800 but still needs beadwork, which will be costly. Many dancers do some or all the work themselves. I gathered that being a dancer involves commitment of time, energy and funds.
For Wendy and Lauren Terbasket, the initiation of their 7 year old nephew Kirshon into the Pow Wow gave special significance to the event. The initiation included several dances in which he was central. Steven Point, a provincial judge and former Lieutenant Governor of B.C., was present to witness the ceremony. Laurence Trottier, a respected dancer, singer, and friend of the family spoke in Kirshon’s honour. For the Terbasket family it was a memorable occasion.
In a conversation with Lauren I came to a greater understanding of the Pow Wow. “Our committee spends the whole year planning,” she said. “We get a lot of help from the community.” She especially appreciates the assistance given by Darlene Choo of Bright Light Pictures and also Gorman Brothers.
“The singing and dancing heal the participants and the onlookers,” she believes. “It’s a celebration dance and it draws families together. We want children to participate at a young age. We give them each $5.00 for dancing. Pow Wows help keep the culture alive. We don’t allow any drugs or alcohol.”
Lauren paused for a moment to consider, then said “the drum beat is the heart beat of the people. Watching the dancers makes you feel good. It lifts up the spirit and heart. The Pow Wow is our way of giving to the people. Blessing comes when we give.”
When we left, I was impressed with the organization and efficiency of the Pow Wow. Equally important is the emphasis on teaching values and culture, giving young people a sense of pride in their heritage, and striving to keep families intact. As we drove away, the big drum was still booming.
The story of the Allisons of the Similkameen Valley has the flavour and deep fascination of a great saga. It began when John Fall Allison, at age 12, emigrated with his family from England to
the U.S. in 1837. As an adult he became infected with gold fever and was enticed to B.C. by news of gold on the Fraser River. Governor James Douglass, evidently impressed by John Fall, appointed him to investigate the Similkameen area.
As happened so often with European men, he took a young aboriginal woman as his wife. Nora Yakumtikum, according to a great granddaughter, came from a royal blood line going back 16 generations. She was 15 at the time.
It was Nora who initially stirred my interest in this story. She has gained considerable attention due to her pack train venture. Nancy Allison of Hedley, another great granddaughter, says she hauled groceries and mining supplies from Hope to Greenwood. Nancy thinks she had about 40 horses and employed people to help her. Rugged and mountainous, the trail required physical endurance and strength of character. Nancy suggests it was likely Nora who made John Fall aware of the Allison Pass route.
John Fall and Nora had 3 children, Lily, Albert (Bertie), and Charles (Enoch). She later bore another son, “Wichie”.
According to B.C. historian M.A. Ormsby, in the 1860’s Allison found placer gold, copper and coal on the Similkameen River. He claimed 160 acres at the junction of the Tulameen and Similkameen rivers.
The relationship between John Fall and Nora ended sometime after the birth of their third child. Information concerning Nora’s life after this is sketchy. We do know though that she has numerous descendants from one end of the Similkameen Valley to the other.
In 1868, at age 43, John Fall married Susan Moir who he had met in Hope. Their honeymoon, according to Ormsby, consisted of a horseback ride from Hope to the Similkameen Valley. It must have been a steep learning curve for the 23 year old Susan. She had received a good education in England, having studied French, Latin and Greek. They settled into a log home which John Fall had built. He bought a number of Durham cattle and in time his herd of 100 swelled to 1000. At times he also prospected and explored.
In this wilderness setting little medical help was available. Ormsby says “when Susan delivered her first child, only her husband and an Indian woman were present.”
Although accounts vary as to where Nora was during these years, we do know that her daughter Lily stayed with John Fall and Susan and helped with raising the children and household chores. In “A Pioneer Gentle Woman in British Columbia”, Susan speaks highly of the assistance provided by Lily. At times John Fall was away for many weeks on cattle drives to New Westminster. Without Lily, life for Susan would have been extremely difficult. In total Susan gave birth to 14 children.
In the severe winter of 1877-78, John Fall lost half his cattle due to the cold. Then, in the winter of 1880-81 a heavy snowfall collapsed the roof of their house. While John Fall was away on a cattle drive in April, 1882 their house burned down. The family temporarily moved into the cowboys’ shack. He rebuilt the house. In 1884 the Similkameen River flooded, destroying their home and 14 outbuildings. They converted a cattle barn into a home.
John Fall caught pneumonia in 1897 and died at age 72. M.A. Ormsby says his discoveries had laid the basis for the great gold mining boom of the 1890’s which resulted in mining towns like Hedley.
“A Pioneer Gentle Woman in British Columbia” provides an interesting account of the pioneering life as Susan and John Fall experienced it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mention Nora. She lived until 1939 and was likely interred at the Mission Chapel just east of Hedley.
Due to space limitations, this account is incomplete. Also, there isn’t total agreement on all details. My purpose is to help keep alive a fascinating piece of Similkameen history. Certainly both Nora and Susan, and also John Fall Allison, played a significant role in the settlement and development of our beautiful Similkameen Valley.
When Nancy Allison, lead organizer for the Chopaka Rodeo, sat down with Linda and me at our kitchen table last week, her smile and
sparkling eyes quickly convinced me she’s a zealot. “I’ve been at this for 50 years,” was her response to my first question. “I was 9 at the time of the first rodeo. My Dad, Barney Allison, was one of the organizers. It began on his ranch, and although he is gone now, it is still there. First everyone went to church. After church some people began doing calf roping for fun. From that small beginning it developed into a very successful rodeo.”
It has become a popular event on the amateur rodeo circuit and
attracts contestants and spectators from the Coast, Williams Lake, Washington State and elsewhere. Events include bullriding, bareback, saddlebronc, team roping, ladies, junior and Pee Wee barrels, and more. “Wild Cow Milking is a crowd pleaser,” Nancy said.
The Kids Calf Scramble requires contestants to chase and snatch ribbons from the ears of calves. According to Nancy, the rodeo is a good place for young contestants to practise their techniques. In addition to an added purse of at least $500, winners of major events will receive a coveted silver buckle crafted by Montana Silversmith.
“In the early years the cowboys went out and caught wild horses for the rodeo,” Nancy said. “Now all contest animals are supplied by contractors. Each time an animal (rough stock) supplied by a contractor exits the chute it costs $150.”
One of the contestants, Chad Eneaus, began riding saddle broncs at age 14, and bulls when he was 16. He won the Canadian High School Bronc Riding Championship. He is a member of the Western Indian Rodeo Association and won the Saddle Bronc Championship in 2010. He has won prize money in a number of rodeos and I felt fortunate in tracking him down. He told me, “in the beginning it was kind of a saving grace. It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”
When I asked Chad about the dangers, he replied, “in one rodeo a bull threw me and then planted its rear hoofs on my chest. Both my lungs collapsed and my liver was lacerated.” He paused a moment and then said, “you have to know when to get a new hold, and when to let go. You don’t have a second to think. It has to be automatic. You have to figure out how to work with the animal. The ground is the best teacher. It hurts when you land.”
Hay rancher Linnea Cappos has been part of the rodeo since 1979. “I rodeoed hard for 40 years in the barrel event,” she told me in a phone conversation. “I competed in the Barrel Racing event. Now I just help the girls make it happen. I’m involved with the paperwork and I also prepare the ground for the Barrel Racing. It’s a timed event and the footing needs to be secure for the horses so they don’t get hurt. The rodeo has given me a lot of satisfaction,” she said. “Now I just want to give something back.”
Linnea loves the family atmosphere. “When I get there, I head first to where they make the Fried Bread. People sit on blankets or lawn chairs, There are no bleachers. Some sit on the tailgates of pickups. It’s pretty informal.” She has gotten her 4 year old grand daughter Sophie involved in Barrel Racing. She does it because I do it,” she said. “Like me, she loves horses.”
I asked Nancy about the level of danger for contestants. “The saddle events are probably more dangerous than the bareback ones,” she
replied. “A rider can get hooked on the saddle horn and be dragged along by the horse. One year a rider caught a hoof in his chest. I had to drive him and the first aid attendants to the clinic. On the way they shouted at me to stop because they had lost him. They pounded on his chest and he came back. After a few days in the hospital he was fine.”
“This year we’ll probably get at least 1000 spectators, if the weather’s good. I tell people to bring their coolers, bikinis, mackinaws and lawn chairs. The entrance fee is only $10.00 and free for kids 10 and under. On Sunday, April 5, 2015 the show begins at 10 am.”
After listening to Chad and Nancy, I’m quite content to let others do the bronco and bull riding at the Chopaka Rodeo. The fried bread sounds pretty good though.
Henry and Barb Allison live on Reserve land directly across from the iconic Standing Rock on Highway #3 near Keremeos. From the outset of our 2 hour conversation with them in their immaculate log home, my wife Linda and I were impressed with their warmth and congeniality.
My interest in them stems in part from their status as Elders in the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. I was also curious about Standing Rock, a revered First Nations ceremonial site.
In response to my question about their home, Henry said, “I was a logger. I personally logged the trees for the house. I traded logs in exchange for the construction.”
I encouraged Henry to continue. “We weren’t going to build on this
site,” he said, “but Barb’s mom owned the land and she insisted we build here so we could protect Standing Rock.” They have been diligent in carrying out her wish, at times telling people not to deface the Rock with writing.
Henry was born in Princeton and lived in Hedley, attending school here to the end of grade 6. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “The other kids teased us a lot because we were Indians. For a time we had to sit on a bench along the wall. The white kids had desks.” He completed grade 8 in Keremeos. In grade 9 his teacher said, “We don’t know how you’re doing it, but you must be cheating. You couldn’t be getting such high marks.” Frustrated by the racially inspired accusations, he quit school.
It was at the Keremeos School that he met Barb. They come from very different families. Barb’s parents were ranchers, living in Chopaka. “Dad was sent to a residential school,” she told us. “When the authorities came for us, he wouldn’t let them take us away.” She and her siblings rode horses across the Similkameen River to their school in Cawston. Like Henry, she and other Indian children had to initially sit on a bench against the wall.
Especially at that age, being Aboriginal was difficult. “One day some white boys told us they would wait for us at the railroad tracks,” she said. “They were going to beat us up. We waited at the school, hoping they would leave. Finally we went to meet them. When we put up our fists to defend ourselves, they ran away.”
Henry’s mom had been taken to a residential school at age 10 and wasn’t returned home until she was 18. “She didn’t see her mother all those years,” he said. “She never learned to be a mother and as an adult alcohol got a hold of her. Once, when I was 8, us kids were left with cousins in a cabin in the bush near Hope. We fished and picked berries to feed ourselves. We didn’t know if our parents would ever return. I felt abandoned.”
“I didn’t understand her life until I attended a workshop about residential school experience,” he said. “Then I was finally able to forgive her.”
Henry grew up to be physically robust, with a desire to leave his past behind. Working in the bush, he became a skilled logger, eventually owning 2 mills and his own logging show. He and Barb began dating and he gave her an engagement ring as a graduation gift.
“That really upset my mom,” Barb recalls. “She was completely against our engagement. She wanted me to go to university and become a lawyer.”
Barb and Henry met with her parents to talk. Finally her dad said,“ we better let them get married or they’ll run away.”
Henry was non-status at the time so when they got married, Barb lost her status. Later she and a group of women travelled to Ottawa to plead for status and it was granted. “I had some trouble persuading them I was Indian,” she said. Possibly the bureaucrats in Ottawa didn’t understand that an Indian could be so intelligent and articulate.
After gaining some life experience, Barb was nominated for the position of band chief in 1994. She won in spite of intense opposition. Believing band accounting might be flawed, she submitted the books for a forensic audit in Kamloops. Irregularities came to light and some individuals lost their jobs and band funding. This was not an easy decision but she possessed the integrity and inner strength to do it.
We sensed the depth of their despair when they talked about the loss of one of their 3 children. “Our son was 18,” Henry said, “He was my right hand man in our logging operation. One day when he was on the job the new pickup he was driving stalled on a hill and went over a steep bank. I was away with the logging truck at the time. When Barb arrived, she climbed down the bank and lay down beside him until he died.” Now years later, both Barb and Henry still carry the grief of that loss.
When we left the Allisons and their comfortable house of blond logs, we felt we had become friends. The racism in their early years and also later hasn’t made them bitter. The tragic loss of their son has not robbed them of joy.
They have decided instead to focus on the wonderful blessing of having 2 children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. They have become resolute, people of integrity and strong character. Henry and Barb would indeed be good friends.
Although as a child Carrie Allison completed only the fourth grade, I came away from a two hour visit with her feeling I’d been educated in history and wisdom. She was sent from her home in the Merritt area where she was born, to a residential school in Kamloops at age 8 and was educated there until age 12.
Carrie is now 83 and even though her experience in the residential school wasn’t as horrific as what we often hear about in the media, the memories still haunt her. A note of sadness creeps into her voice when she says, “my dreams about it are always bad. In one dream I hearing a baby crying at night, but it is dark and I can’t find it.”
She pauses a moment to reflect, then continues. “I was away from home 10 months at a time. There wasn’t enough to eat and I was always hungry. We ate in the same room as the staff, and we could see they had meat on their plates. We were given only vegetable soup and one slice of bread. At Easter they gave us one egg with our meal. I knew mostly the language of my people, but I was punished if I spoke it. In winter they made us walk to town. My hands and feet got really cold. We weren’t allowed to talk to the boys or even look at them. We were in the classroom half a day, the rest of the day we had to work. The girls cleaned up the dormitories, the priest’s room, the hallways, play room and dining hall.”
Knowing she looks after the diminutive white chapel situated on a bluff overlooking the Similkameen Valley, not far from Hedley going toward Keremeos, I ask why she is still involved with the Catholic faith. Many would have turned their backs on the faith because of the pain caused by the school experiences.
“People sometimes ask me that,” she answers. “I tell them God didn’t do that to me. It was people. I never look back. I tell the kids to always look ahead and try to make something of themselves.”
Carrie never knew her father. Fortunately her mother was deeply committed to her family and Carrie speaks of her as a wonderful role model. “She was very small,” she says. “She tanned hides and traded them in town. She also made gloves and moccasins.”
Carrie recalls clearly the injunction of her mother to “take care of yourself. No drinking. Before you go away, do the dishes and clean the house.”
Now a mother and grandmother herself, she does all she can to pass on the values of the older generation. “Young kids don’t know what we went through,” she says with a perceptible hint of disappointment. “Sometimes I think we should take them back to our time. No electricity, no indoor bathroom. We had to pack water from the river. Mom didn’t have a washing machine so she carried her laundry to the river. She heated water in a tub there and after she washed the clothes, she hung them on branches.”
I sense now that in her mind she is reliving those times. “Sometimes we bathed in the river. In winter we heated water in the tub and bathed there. Those were happy days. I was with my family.”
In 1942 Carrie’s mother married a member of the Upper Similkameen Band and they moved to Hedley. “The town looked new to me then,” she says. “People dressed up.
I saw ladies wearing hats and white gloves.” She recalls they could flag down the Great Northern train and catch a ride to Oroville.
When she was 12, her stepfather took her to the home of Charlie Allison, at that time band chief. Here she met Edward (Slim) Allison, her future husband. Slim was told by the Indian Agent, “you should be on the band council. You can read and write.” In time, Slim became band chief. When he was in this role, she worried about him. “You can’t please everybody,” she says, again experiencing the concern she had for her husband at that time.
“Slim always gave me the pay from his work at the sawmill in Princeton.” I sense her pride as she remembers how responsible he was about finances. “He told me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I could give him some.”
At age 40, Carrie attended 3 semesters of academic upgrading. Someone at the school suggested she enter a hair styling course. She accepted this advice and registered for a course in Vernon. For the last two weeks of the course she made the long trip from Hedley to Vernon every day. Having had my hair cut by her many years ago, I still recall her cheery attitude and words as she clipped.
Now at an age when no one would be critical if she retired to a rocking chair, Carrie gives little indication she is ready to slow her pace. In addition to cleaning the little chapel, once a year she hires boys to harvest the weeds from the adjacent cemetery. Records indicate the chapel was likely built in 1901 and she feels a responsibility to those who made it a reality at a time when remoteness of the area made this difficult. “I think of the old people who worked so hard to bring the lumber and windows and other supplies here to build it,” she says. “We should keep it up in their honour.” When there are 5 Sundays in a month, the priest comes and she attends the service. In winter she often invites the people to meet in her home, due to lack of adequate heat in the chapel.
“It is important to preserve the Indian culture and ways,” Carrie says. “I’m learning a prayer in the band language. I don’t want the language to be lost. Not many can speak it anymore.”
On the first Wednesday of each month she attends an elders lunch in Keremeos. She still sews quilts. “I tried making moccasins, but I’m not good at it.”
Carrie is a committed fan of early Country and Western music. “When I was in Nashville,” she tells me, “I saw Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Earnest Tubb and Kitty Wells.” When I ask if she likes Jerry Lee Lewis, famous for his Great Balls of Fire hit, her response is enthusiastic. “Oh yes. I like him.”
Carrie has experience, wisdom and an enthusiasm for life that many with a Masters Degree would envy.
A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.