How we learn and Ancestral Ways of Knowing


On July 5, I received the call that our 82 year old elder was admitted into the hospital and unconscious. The news concerned me as I packed our bags and headed down to the hospital.
I went over in my head all the times I wished I had made time and thoughts of the many questions I still had to ask related to our ceremonies.

Since that day, I’ve made it a point to visit Aunty every day as much as I could, I can count the 5 days we didn’t get to visit with her. Feelings of I wished I had visited her more prompted me to make sure I went to see her every day, but also, the desire to learn as much I could about our family and cultural knowledge. Why did I wait so long? What was I thinking when I didn’t make that time to be with her? Many thoughts related to the missed moments and times I should’ve been there.

As I find resolve with the fact that 82 years of Indigenous knowledge has been slowly leaving our family, I am also coming closer to the reality that she taught me ways for the next generation in our family as well. As one of my brothers and I sat with our beloved elder yesterday, he shared, “We will always wish for more and think we should’ve done more” as he reassured and consoled me, I knew what my brother was saying is true, however, nothing can ever take back time.

As a modern Indigenous woman, NiMiiPuu to be exact, I have prided myself in learning and knowing as much as I can so that I could do the right thing when it comes to my children. Knowing the protocols for how to name my children, digging, gathering, dancing, singing, spiritual responsibilities, etc all that so that I could know our ways just for them. I have come to the resolve I still have some unanswered questions and I’m wishing for more time with our beloved. She has been our connection to our past and is a wealth of Indigenous knowledge.

As my family and I have been with her we’ve heard from people throughout the Columbia Plateau who know our beloved and I realize, Aunty connected many people to the past. A beautiful woman I knew this time would come but not today. How I wished I never left our Rez, yet enjoyed calling her to tell her of my adventures. How I wanted so much for her to see my kids drove me to wake my kids at what they call an ungodly hour just to take their Gram raspberries or a necklace I found on my travels, she was worth every mile.

As our family elder helped me with my name giving and blessed my son Tee’wis Ilp Ilp with his name at birth, I learned a little bit. When we went through the official naming for my son to carry on the name she was adamant that it be in the old way. As it is our custom to name our children after a relative, we do this to bless a child so that may embody the goodness and qualities of the relative as it is passed down from one generation to the next. While my Aunty is such a wealth of knowledge I learned from her it’s important to keep our ways. At the instruction of my Elé (who is no longer with us) once told me, “if you ever need to know anything about our ways, you talk to your Aunty” I took that truth and did what best I could and somehow feel like I still have so much more to learn.

In this realization and awareness, I wish to blog thoughts out loud, wishing for more time is an emotion of grievance. Embracing the old ways and carrying with me what has been taught, yet I know my responsibilities of passing that knowledge down have just increased. Respectful and mindful to our ways, my responsibility will include making a commitment to a way of life that actually started at my birth.

No longer friends with some of the people I used to hang with I first came into the role a few years back and tried to share it with them then, come to realize they didn’t want to hear. I also learned not everybody can handle that truth, more importantly, it isn’t meant for everybody. My peer group alone has few who live this old way and it can be lonely. I understand today, the process is like a grooming, when we set out to learn anything, humility is necessary in order for knowledge to be shared.

As I think back over the years I know that time can never be taken back. I am here to share, make time for your elders wherever you may be. They truly are the gem we need in our daily lives. As an Indigenous woman, I view myself as cosmopolitan. Born in the city, stayed with my grannies, aunties, cousins to learn from extended family being well versed in urban and Rez life, it was the woman who kept me connected. At times my male relatives, but for the most part the women in my family who taught me how to be. Having lived in the city and knowing my responsibility to return home (as my Aunty once told me the day I accepted my Indian name) I know now what she wanted and expected of me. Still, I wish I spent more time.

I wasted all those years and today I hold on to memories

In closing, I am humbled, as one of her faves, I feel blessed that she would honor my kids the way she did, but also trust she could teach me. Ever thankful and grateful, I remain.

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