Interview by Kristin Starlight, Windspeaker Radio
Long time ago, all the ceremonies were done. You never became a hunter until you were blessed. The Creator told Tsuut’ina that ceremonies are done to make you a community hunter. The old men, they invite them, they have a feast and they blessed you and then you can go out hunting. You can start snaring your first rabbit or first prairie chicken, or whatever little animal….
You’re not supposed to eat it. Your neighbours are brought in by your family. And even if it’s just one or two rabbits, mom will cook it, make soup with it, and that’s what you got was the soup. You’re wondering if you’re going to get a piece of that rabbit you killed. You don’t get it. It’s given to your neighbours. They give it away. It makes you qualified to go hunting that same afternoon or the next day for your family.
Your first kill of a rabbit or anything bigger, deer, moose, elk or buffalo, you’ve got to gift that. Mom will cook maybe a piece of meat from the hind quarter for supper only. But you don’t need it. You get the soup out of it. Your uncles, your brothers, all the family members (will) go out to visit. ‘Come over. My brother killed a moose. Come and get some meat.’ Everybody comes. That’s how you fed the community. You shared that….
That’s how it was. My first deer, it was all given out. My first moose, it was given out. My first elk. I never killed a buffalo… I left it. So I became a community hunter.
When I became a teenager, I started abusing my hunting rights. By that I mean I got into alcohol. It was alright, but then when I got no money left, I start selling the meat in the city and I bought more alcohol with it. That was abusing. That’s what my grandfather said. ‘If you ever start abusing it, you got to quit hunting forever. You’re never to kill another animal as long as you live.’
I was 32 years old when I walked away from the alcohol. And then four years later in 1976…My rifles were hanging on the deer horns. Five of them—.22 single shot, .22 repeater and a .303, .30-30 Winchester and a .22 Winchester. They were the most beautiful two guns…. I was so proud of it.
I gave up my hunting rights in 1976. My adopted brother Bruce had a ceremony. He brought people from Smallboy Camp at Dad’s old house. That house’s still standing.
In there, they’re going to treat my wife. And I went there and I realized I had nothing to give. How are they going to treat my wife. That’s when my wife became sick, in 1976, so I took her there to get treated. So, I had realized, I had abused my rights as a hunter. I told (the healers), ‘I’ve got nothing to give you for treating my wife, but I have something in my home, my guns. You’re in the mountains. You’re hunters. I’ll give you my guns.’ That’s how I gave my guns away.
I put it on the table… They took them. I gave the shells. 1976 I quit hunting. I quit drinking 47 years ago… 47 years ago I walked away from the alcohol and I took back tsuut’ina…
When the chief, 1993, he gave me a medicine bundle, called the medicine pipe bundle…. Roy (Whitney) was chief. 1993 April the 19th, that’s the day he gave it to me… I accepted the bundle… I took the bundle home. I cleaned out my one bedroom. Everything out. And I prayed in there. And I put all my stuff what I had, my pipe, my ceremonial stuff. I put it in there and I put that bundle up there. And I prayed. ‘This is your home now. You’ve been given to me, so I look after you…’ It will be 27 years since, that I have kept that bundle. Chief Roy Whitney told me ‘look after this bundle for two months.’ So this is the longest two months I kept that bundle. And I’m happy. It made me happy.
(If the) people, the chief, wanted to take that bundle, I can’t say no. That bundle belongs to the oldest tsuut’ina on this reserve. The newborn baby owns that. Everybody else, even you, (the Elder tells the interviewer.) You’re now tsuut’ina, so you own that bundle. All I do is look after it for you. That’s why, in our traditions, I cannot go to our powwows or rodeos. I can’t go to our feasts, dances. That’s how sacred that bundle is.
I visited these Elders… I brought tobacco, I bought some stuff, and I visit them and I gave them tobacco, and I asked each one of them ‘how do I look after this medicine bundle?’ And they gave me ideas… I traveled two days and I asked, my grandmother Hilda Big Crow, the oldest man… Frank One Spot, the oldest man Dick Big Plume. When he died he was 101 years old. Frank was 99 years old when he died. My grandmother Hilda was in (her) 90s… They all advised me, all those the same, pretty well the same, advice. I can not have alcohol or drugs in my home.
Chief Roy Whitney knew all my children don’t do alcohol or drugs. That’s the reason he gave me the pipe bundle and I took it and gave me tobacco. And that’s why I have to be honest. I’ve never attended, 26 years, I have not attended our own powwow. I went there a week before the powwow to pray, help them pray that they have a good powwow, good rodeo, good golf tournament, good hand game tournament, good baseball tournaments. I helped them pray like that. And that our visitors will get home safely to their loved ones on the different reserves that come to visit Tsuut’ina…
We have to do those things… It’s a wonderful thing. I’m so proud to look after it… My wife done all the cooking for it every spring. The other thing I do… Dec. 21, I have to light my pipe and pray for a good season for the good winter months. March 21 comes, I have to go out there, sit out in the forestry, light my pipe and ask for a good spring… June 21 the same thing. September 21 the same thing. Every season, because that pipe bundle looks after the land. And that’s one of my duties.
And I have to pray every night for all of Tsuut’ina, all the sick people… I always keep tobacco and carry my own in my bag in case something happens I’ve got loose tobacco…. I make the offering for anything that I do. That is my job as a bundle keeper today.