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Elders's Perpective: An Interview With Thomas Strongquill

Danny Musqua

Every once in awhile you get the privilege to speak heart to heart with an elder. In my recent visit to Keeseekoose I had such an opportunity with Grandfather Thomas Strongquill who was born in 1892.

It gives me great pleasure to speak to young people whenever the opportunity occurs. There are so many changes today its hard, everything took time to do and to make it happen, we were much more careful at what we did and what we said to others or to one another.

When someone wanted to do something like a pow-wow or council dance or sundance, etc., all the Elders were informed and they in turn would instruct their leaders and their young people on how they could help. Everything and every action was carefully looked at, in order that we may not overlook some detail of responsibility or any action that might offend the people we were trying to help. So therefore, it was important to know and understand each others ceremonies on the Rules or Laws that governed our ceremonies in order for this to happen.

Thomas Strongquill

We had to always talk (total communication) with one another at all times. Talking to one another was very important. I think I would say this is the most important thing that must take place for anything good to happen in a community, that is, talking to one another. Perhaps you might have a different word for it today, but it is the same as talking to one another. This is what helps people of all ages to understand one another.

That is why in the past our people did not need to hit their children, because the parents and the Grandparents were always talking to the chidren telling them how to behave with one another as brothers and sisters, and as relatives to other people and their children. This was necessary for peace and co-operation among our people and their children. This was a law.

The children were taught to show respect for all people young and old, especially the elders. And you as an elder must be an example to all people, especially the youth today. Its sad to say most of our people don I follow this today. Its sad to say most of our people don't follow this today, it is being lost to us. The young people don't have any respect for the old people anymore and what is even more sad is many old people don't have respect for themselves.

Alcohol is destroying our way of life and there are many new problems I don't have words for. All l can say is, the world is turning away from the Great Spirit, the Good and Eternal God and our Grandfather, and turning to evil things because it is easier to do evil than good things, and of course the evil ones pays you for those things you do that are evil with evil. That is his reward for obeying and being evil.

Perhaps today our young people have nothing to do with why this happens. In the past children always had a lot of work and recreation and they were never allowed to have any idle time to themselves. That is the secret to raising good children. You must keep them busy and they also have to have some time for fun and play, but it must be good fun and good play. You must have a word for that (organized recreation) today.

Maybe today our leaders might be too young to lead and maybe they don't have the teaching and the training to become good leaders.

All the skills for leadership must be learned long before you become a leader. In the old days an Okima or leader was much older than today's leaders. They had to learn to become a leader, by being with old people who were leaders themselves. He had to learn to sacrifice many things, abstain and fast to acquire the wisdom to understand what he was being taught, to be able to carry out his duty, when he became a leader. The first and most important task of a leader is to unify his people and then next to that is to make his people work together to lead them to make that happen. In the old days this is how our chiefs and leaders used to work. It is hard work to be a leader.

It is hard today to learn these things because we are losing our language and the learning ways (ceremonies and teachings) that made all this happen.

Elders's Perpective: An Interview With Thomas Strongquill

Danny Musqua

I think we have to try and recover what little is left of this way of life before we completely lose it. Today we have schools that could be doing that, but I hear we are even losing those.

In the past we used to work from morning 'til night to survive and to have enough food to pull us through the long winter months, and again we had to work together for this to happen. We used to do this by hunting, trapping and gathering. We would sell our furs and goods to the Hudson Bay Company who would pay us very cheap for the furs, pemmican and seneca roots we bought.

Just to give you an idea, muskrats were five cents, beavers were seventy-five cents, foxes were twenty five cents, coyotes were thirty-five cents, mink were fifty cents, weasels were fifteen cents, squirrels were two cents and gophers were one cent a tail. This money was used to prepare us for the long summer's hunt to prepare our food needs for the coming winter. We had to buy the necessities such as tea, salt, sugar, flour, breads, shells and lead and powder for those who were still using the muskets and twine at the Hudson's Bay.

Wrapping string was used for snares for rabbits. Shovels, pots and pans, knives -- all the tools needed for the big hunt.

These were exciting times for our people as everybody worked together to make this a successful hunt, poor hunt meant hunger for the coming winter. Our elders prayed and our young men fasted and gave tobacco to the elders to advise them in the hunt. You would see young men that were prospects as good hunters and that are good hunters already, gathered around the old expert hunters of the past for final instructions on how to bag their game.

The young women would be gathered around the cocom's for instruction on how to prepare the meat for smoking and drying and to organize their work for quickness and proper curing of the meat and also the children being instructed on how they would help by being obedient making sure there was a lot of wood prepared and available for the women to use for cooking and drying. Yes, these were busy times and happy times.

It is sad today, there is more sadness than happiness. Perhaps the end is coming. I am getting tired but I want to tell one more thing, that is about our treaties and hunting rights.

The Queen's Representative said what you have, you will always have, and more because what your great white mother gives you is on top of all you already have. And as for our game and hunting. The Queen's man was told that our hunting grounds, our game birds and fish and all our big game were not for sale or to be given away in treaty but rather to be protected for our use. He said No! No!, I don't want your wildlife or your hunting grounds. Instead, what I will do is protect these areas and animals for you, as in the past. They will be protected for your use only. Because the whiteman who has killed off your buffalo may do that to your animals. This is what our grandfather and my uncle old Kakakaway told us, because he sat through all the treaty negotiations as one of our headmen. He sat five rows directly in front of the Queen's representative.

As far as I know, we have not broken any treaties in my time, but I don't know about today. All the broken treaties have been done by the Queen's white children. They promised God to keep them so it is He who will make them pay for their broken promises, and they have to look closely they will know how.

As for our young people today, who hunt, should not sell this meat. It is meant to be given and shared by our people between one another. I don't agree with the selling of wildlife by anyone, whether they be white or Indian.

I always enjoy helping when I can. Recently I was asked to help our young people open and dedicate a building to promote Health and environment. With this I would like to rest now and I thank you for visiting and listening to me.