Wisdom of a Sliammon Elder

Tla'Amin (Sliammon) Totem by Eugene Rodriguez | Photo courtesy of Sliammon Treaty Society

Tla’Amin (Sliammon) Totem by Eugene Rodriguez | Photo courtesy of Sliammon Treaty Society

Elsie Paul, an elder of the Sliammon (ɬaʔamin) people of the northern Sunshine Coast, will launch her new book Written as I Remember It  Feb. 24 at the Vancouver Public Library. Paul, one of the last surviving speakers of her mother tongue, will be joined by her collaborators Paige Raibmon and granddaughter Harmony Johnson.

With a long history of community service, especially in the area of education, Paul has encouraged Sliammon youth to value a good education as one of their most important goals and assets. She received social work accreditation from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Paul has worked at schools and at hospitals, as well as being involved in cross-cultural events. She has been a mentor at the university level, giving guidance and encouragement to new students.

Finding inspiration

According to the Sliammon First Nation’s website, the Nation is part of the 20 Coast Salish communities living along British Columbia’s Northern coast and has a history stretching back over 2000 years.

Their language, the Tla’amin language, was eventually documented and preserved for the future but Paul remains one of the last mother-tongue speakers.

Along with her maternal language, learned at the side of her grandmother, Paul inherited the legends, stories and history of her people, as well as their spiritual practices.

She was initially motivated by a desire to pass on some of her people’s history and traditions to her family.

It was at Powell River’s Vancouver Island College, where she was an elder-in-residence, that the book project took off, thanks to the encouragement of faculty. Primarily based on Paul’s memories of her early life being raised by her grandparents and living a traditional life, the book eventually became a collaboration between the three co-authors.

Life as it wasE_p3_silannon_1

In Paul’s childhood all the roads in her community were unpaved. People walked everywhere. It was not uncommon to walk as much as five miles at a time. Travel over longer distances usually involved going by water. Paul’s grandfather owned a large dug-out canoe. This was important not only for travel, but also for fishing and for trade.

In her book, Paul tells how much of the Sliammon lifestyle was centered around the gathering of food. Salmon and herring were important in this way, and they could be eaten quickly or preserved by either smoking or even just drying in the wind. They would be available later in the year simply by putting them in water and then, perhaps, by recooking them. Clams were plentiful, and even they could be dried and eaten at a later date. Paul’s grandfather also had trap-lines and hunted. And then there were the many different types of berries: blackberries, salmon, halal.

Paul writes of how getting this food involved a mobile life as the people moved from place to place following the seasonal pattens. There was a great deal of trade, too, with other people up and down the coast. Local goods could be exchanged for what others had. This was always done by exchange in her grandfather’s day.

Paul’s book stresses that Sliammon teachings are not about a return to the past. They are about the positive influence the past can have on the present. Knowing where you have come from is important in knowing where you are going.

Elsie Paul’s Teachings from the Life of a Sliammon Elder is at VPL’s Central Branch at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24; and for further information on the series, visit www.vpl.ca.

For more information about the Sliammon language, please visit www.sliammonfirstnation.com/index.php/our-language