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Memories of Elder Dr. Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas, circa 1970's, making baskets, Mary Thomas, circa 1970's

When everything started getting ripe, the people would move and make camps like little shelters. They would get up early in the morning and pick berries and dig roots.

Winter homes were made so that the wind goes right through and blows the bad air away, so no one gets sick. There is always fresh air.

A way back my mother used to tell me stories. I wasn’t around then.

A lot of people gathered at a place called Tkememelulpa. In those days, the people traveled in canoes. They gathered to honor all the new foods that they were going to gather for the winter. They stayed for a long time. There were camps all over the place. All the men would go hunting. The women made ropes which we call hemp in English.

Some of the people traveled on horse and buggy. I guess today that is what they call Thanksgiving.

Everyone had tents. My grandmother never had a tent. She slept under a tree which had a lot of branches. It kept her nice and dry. Everyone had fires going and cooked food. No one was left out when they ate. They ate altogether. Everyone was so happy and laughed a lot. The kids ran all over the place playing while the people were busy digging roots or picking berries.

Our Dad moved over to Tsicwelxeqs. When they came here earlier, it was not only Neskonlith, but Adams Lake and Splatsin (Enderby) people camped also. Elpi was from Statlmux fro the Purdaby family and married Lesi from the Kinbasket family.

Thimbleberries, photograph by Janice Billy, courtesy of Chief Atahm School

When the railroad first went through our area, Native people found out about money and they started making cordwood and selling it. There were piles and piles of it along the tracks. They also made railway ties to make money. Trains used steam to make them go, and so they used wood for the engines.

Everything was changing. They started surveying the land, which was set aside for reserves for the Native people. Then they started electing the Chief rather than having a hereditary Chief. White people made all the rules.

My grandfather knew of a graveyard site over in Sandy Point. Babies and Elders were buried there. The deep dents in the ground show where the winter homes were. Now there are many houses built on top of them.

When I was a little girl, a lot of things happened. Down by the river there was lot of thimbleberries. It was just red all over the place. My grandmother used to squeeze the berries and spread it on mats made of bulrush to make fruit leather. Also the people picked lots of raspberries and strawberries. They didn’t know anything about candy only dried berries of all kinds. When they saw the grandmothers getting the sack, they would say, “Oh, we are going to get lucky and eat dried berries”. It was so good, especially in winter. We didn’t over eat in those days.

I watched as they picked soapberries. There was plenty for everyone. That is where Swetsmellp got its name from. There was so much all over in the hills. Some people camped at Skwelulecw. They made fire and heat up rocks. When they were hot enough, they put them in the canoe with the bunch grass on the bottom. Then they spread the soapberries on top of the grass. The berries were covered with the same kind of grass. Sticks were piled on top of the upper layer of grass. More hot rocks were put on top so that the berries would dry up. All the juice would go to waste. They never had jars to put things away. When it was dry, it was put away. When they wanted to use the soapberry, they would break off a piece and put in the water to soften it. They whipped up the soapberries with a beater made of bulrushes.

My mother used to tell me that there were so many soapberries; enough for everyone. Now we don’t see very much of them anymore. When soapberries are over then everything starts getting ripe; one after the other. Chokecherries were dried and put into sacks. When they wanted to eat some, they would soak the berries and then boil them. They would drink the juice. Now you don’t see good berries. Most of them are wormy. Nobody wants to pick them.

Now everyone eats fish, salmon, spring salmon and king salmon. Long ago the ling cod fishing would be finished in May.

The meadow beside my house was full of meadow hay. There were a lot of mud hens. They lay a lot of eggs. When we were children we used to run around scaring those hens and taking their eggs. We would travel on canoe to get the eggs. We put the eggs in water, if the eggs came to the top, they would throw it away because they had little chicks inside. Whatever stayed on top, they ate. The people sure had a good feast on the eggs. They were so good.

We also fished the sucker fish. If the belly was yellow, then it was good. It had lots of fat. You could see them in the water with their little tails wagging around. The people used a spear to fish them. They cooked the sucker fish by the fire with sticks. Two sticks were put across the fish and one long one in the middle. When it was cooked, you can pull all the bones out. My grandmother made fish head soup which was so good. Our Elders used to smoke the sucker fish.

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