Those Who Know: Profiles of Albertas Aboriginal Elders (20th Anniversary Edition)

Those Who Know: Profiles of Albertas Aboriginal Elders (20th Anniversary Edition)

by Dianne Meili


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The elders in Those Who Know have devoted their lives to preserving the wisdom and spirituality of their ancestors. Despite insult and oppression, they have maintained sometimes forbidden practices for the betterment of not just their people, but all humankind.First published in 1991, Dianne Meili's book remains an essential portrait of men and women who have lived on the trapline, in the army, in a camp on the move, in jail, in residential schools, and on the reserve, all the while counselling, praying, fasting, healing, and helping to birth further generations.In this 20th anniversary edition of Those Who Know, Meili supplements her original text with new profiles and interviews that further the collective story of these elders as they guide us to a necessary future, one that values Mother Earth and the importance of community above all else.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781927063132
Publisher: NeWest Publishers, Limited
Publication date: 05/15/2012
Edition description: Anniversary
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Diane Meili, the great<->granddaughter of well<->known Cree Elder, Victoria Callihoo, was born in Calgary in 1957. After studying journalism at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, she worked as a newspaper reporter, public relations officer and was the editor of Windspeaker<—>Alberta<’>s bi<->weekly Native newspaper<—>for two years. It was during her time at Windspeaker that she became aware of the need for a book to chronicle the thoughts and experiences of Alberta<’>s Native elders. She spent the following eighteen months travelling throughout Alberta interviewing elders from ten different tribes. Dianne currently lives in Peace River.

Read an Excerpt


Henry Laboucan places his black cowboy hat on the table and smoothes his long grey hair. In a restaurant booth on a quiet winter afternoon in Edmonton, we transcend the mundane and slip back through the years when elders like Peter O'Chiese, Eddie Bellerose, and Robert Smallboy were still alive. Henry spent a lot of time with these celebrated men after they chose him to help mediate between themselves and government officials so they could bring cultural programming into jails.

The elders knew that Aboriginal men were starving for spirituality in prison. They were successful in their bid to be able to enter jails and share ceremony and teachings with inmates who were trying to change their lives for the better.

Henry shares a story of how Peter O'Chiese would shoo him away when he tried to help the old man chop wood. "I mean, here's this elder at ninety-nine years of age still swinging an axe," Henry recalls."But he didn't want any help. He just said that cutting wood was his life."

Henry opens his ever-present notebook to a clean page and draws a broken circle on it. He moves his pen a quarter of the way around it. "This was my childhood, when I was four or five years old. I remember having a good time. Some of those old people at that time were so powerful. They could levitate," he comments. He points to a space in the circle and tells me it represents the time he spent in residential school, and the magic died for him.

In the middle of the circle he draws a smaller circle and writes the word "wisdom keepers" inside. "We need to gather the strongest of the strong elders we still have and learn from them. If we don't, everything is going to go. We won't have anything of that powerful way of life left," he states.

He's right, and he has summed up why I wanted to develop this Landmark Edition of Those Who Know. When I first thought about the prospect, I had some hesitation. All but two of the elders I'd interviewed twenty years ago had passed away and I thought it might be too sad to revisit their stories. I also believed that elders' roles in their communities had lessened and their wisdom was being ignored. With resources being exploited in this province more aggressively than ever, I knew that Aboriginal people's link to the land was becoming more fragile, and the clash of cultures was an even bigger problem than it had been two decades ago.

Ultimately, I decided that there was never a more important time to hear from the elders than now. And so I began, starting out the same way I had twenty years ago, with my notepad and car, driving roads I hadn't travelled down since the early 1990s.

The trip north to Fox Lake was especially enjoyable at the height of summer. The highway north of Red Earth Creek was deserted and the ditches were aflame with fuchsia-coloured fireweed. I stopped along the way to swim in Lesser Slave Lake and arrived at Fox Lake First Nation during the Sixth Annual Leon Jr. Memorial Handgame Tournament which Rachel and Leon Nanooch host every year in honour of their departed son. More than thirty teams had signed up for the tournament and the drumming went on into the wee hours of the morning. Exciting stuff, but I drove away from the crowd a few times that weekend to sit with Henri Nanooch, a quiet, gracious artist who is the son of the late Eve Nanooch, whom I spoke with and profiled long ago. We talked about his mother and how much things had changed in Fox Lake.

A couple of months later, I headed off in the other direction to visit my Blackfoot and Tsuut'ina friends. The towering wind turbines beating against the western horizon of the looming Rocky Mountains assaulted my eyes. Harvesting the southern Alberta wind for electricity near Pincher Creek, they looked alien, but there were familiar sights too: the flat-topped rise of Chief Mountain brought tears to my eyes, as did the sight of the gnarled cottonwoods growing along the banks of the Oldman River, so sacred to the Blackfoot Nation.

Later, as I called on the adult relatives of almost all of the elders who had appeared in the first edition of this book, things got even better. All of them had read with pride their family member's story in the first edition of Those Who Know and were eager to fill in the last twenty years. All of the families were as happy to reconnect with me as I was to speak with them. That's when I realized that these elders hadn't left completely; they were living on through their descendents.

The new elders I've added to this book were inspiring to sit with. I know the spirits are still with us through the healing works being performed by many of them, especially Arnold Mountain Horse.

Who is an elder is a debatable question, but I think my friend Cliff Gladue's definition fits as well as any. He says an elder is someone who is in control of his or her emotions and who is a keeper of the culture. The people in this book have transcended jealousy, sadness, anger and hate, and they live fully in the present. They are at peace with themselves and the world around them. They've forgiven those who've hurt them, and, most importantly, they've forgiven themselves for anything they might not be proud of. Loving, sharing, and helping people, they work for the Creator and care about passing their language, spirituality, customs and traditions to young people. They are in touch with the unseen world of spirit and have an intimate relationship with their natural surroundings.

Everyone has their own bliss. For me, it was sitting on Tom Crane Bear's couch until two in the morning, listening to him describe the evening he and a friend retrieved a pipe which had been left to sit by itself for a time in a mountainous place. As they walked toward it, stopping four times, twice a giant eagle flew over them. Paradise was also enjoying a crackling fire under a full moon while the late Albert Lightning shared stories about the May-may-quay-so-wuk -- the little people.

William Delver, son-in-law of Chief Blue Quill, the namesake of Blue Quills First Nation College -- a former residential school near St. Paul which members of seven bands reclaimed and turned into their own educational institution in 1971 -- saw the future of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren when he said they would live during a time when "kipimâcihonâwâw ka-wehcasin; inehiyâw¬iwinâwâw wî-âyiman ka-miciminamihk." His words mean "earning a living will be easy; being Cree (Aboriginal) will be hard to hold."

Months before I wrote this introduction, things were happening on many fronts. The sad situation at Attawapiskat was occurring, and many in Canada seemed a step closer to understanding the "Indian" condition in this country. Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a meeting with Aboriginal leaders to discuss their concerns about education, health, governance and land claims, and an incredibly thought-provoking series called 8th Fire, about the relationship be¬tween Aboriginal peoples and the settler community, was airing on CBC.

All around Edmonton, Aboriginal language classes were springing up and I continued to hear of new places to go for sweatlodge ceremonies and other cultural activities.

I have full confidence that culture will never die, it just might change a little to blend with the times.

I hope this book and the elders' knowledge in it make it a little harder for William Delver to have been right. I pray that in some small way it will help our children hold onto this powerful way of life well into the future.

Dianne Meili
February 8, 2012
Stony Plain, Alberta

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

Preface Dr. Emma LaRocque xi

Introduction 1

1 Tom Crane Bear 7

2 Rose Auger 19

3 Tibeyimisuw 31

4 Wallace Mountain Horse 39

5 Arnold Mountain Horse 51

6 Alexis Seniantha 61

7 Beverly Hungry Wolf 73

8 James Grandjambe 85

9 Katie Bull Shield Wells 93

10 George Kehewin 101

11 David Providence 111

12 Nancy Potts 119

13 Russell Wright 129

14 Joe P. Cardinal 143

15 Louise Big Plume 153

16 Vanora Big Plume 165

17 Albert Lightning 175

18 Louis Yakkineah 189

19 Dorothy Smallboy 195

20 Albert & Alma Desjarlais 205

21 Dominique Habitant 213

22 Fred Marcel 225

23 Mary Gallant 233

24 Arnold Orr 241

25 Eve Nanooch 251

26 Charlie Blackman 261

27 Cecile Chambaud 275

28 Adam Salopree 283

29 Killian Wildman 293

30 Victoria McDonald 301

31 Abbie Burnstick 309

32 Jenny Salter 323

33 Catherine Yatsallie 331

34 Tommy Wanyandy 341

35 Christine Horseman 353

36 Maggie Black Kettle 359

37 Mary Mae Strawberry 371

38 Joe & Josephine Crowshoe 379

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