Nelly and I had a wonderful 17 day visit in Oliver several weeks ago.
One of highlights was when we visited the Oliver Cemetery. I must commend the Town of Oliver for the marvelous way the cemetery has been organized. There is a kiosk where one is able to look up the location of whatever plot you want to visit. Every grave and marker is in its family section. For example, Wally and Auntie Kay’s markers are side by side and my grandpa Smith and his wife, Auntie Ellie have side by side graves.
We also listened with interest to the latest controversial issues such as the race track noise and the impending Centennial Park sale. The race track issue is something I can address here. In Edmonton we live half a kilometer from a major freeway. To us the sound of the whooshing cars is like a roaring river and we hardly hear it. Only when a noisy motorcycle goes by do we remember where we are.
To me the Nk’Mip race track sounded like buzzing bees and in no time we got used to it.
Someone asked me if I heard the racetrack that day and I said that I hadn’t noticed it. I also remembered that the noise is the sound of money being made which is another way to look at it.
Back in Edmonton, I was searching Wally’s columns while looking for something of historic note when I came across a wonderful piece honoring former Chief Manuel Louie. Wally wrote it on February 23 of 1967. He mentions a colleague named KD Woodworth. The column is titled The Chief is Dead.
The Chief is Dead
When I first met him back in the mid ’30’s Manuel Louie was in his prime. Tall, broad shouldered and clear eyed, he was the picture of good health. The man who was later chosen to be chief of his tribe was unlike most Indians in that he never used words sparingly for he loved to talk.
Because of his penchant for jolly conversation, KD Woodworth and I sometimes referred to him as Manuel the loquacious. KD, who had a flair for the unusual, learned that Manuel was something of a story teller, and he persuaded the big, good natured friend to recount some of the Indian folklore tales while we set them down on a typewriter.
A date and an hour was set for the session of story telling, and at the appointed time we arrived at Manuel’s home on the McKinney Road where the historic trail leaves the dusty valley and starts the climb into the cool green hills.
Manuel had the soul of an artist. For him it wasn’t enough just to tell a story. To give it full justice the story had to be told in the right environment. He left KD and me sitting in the living room and in about five minutes he re-appeared in full regalia, wearing beaded buckskin jacket and moccasins, and a feathered headdress.
I had the feeling that Manuel would have preferred a setting beside a campfire deep in the woods with a star studded sky overhead. But he settled for a compromise and seated himself in a comfortable chair while KD set up his typewriter and placed extra sheets of paper nearby.
Many of the Indian tales began with the words, “A long time ago,” and that was the opening of this one which was the story of ” How the Skunk Got His Smell. ”
Manuel knew his story well, and he told it in a slow deliberate style, pausing briefly now and then while KD’s flying fingers flitted over the keyboard in an effort to keep up with the words of the story teller.
This was no easy task, as I learned when I took my turn at the keyboard. We had to make many abbreviations and leave out words and even sacrifice whole phrases in order to keep close behind the tale as it unfolded in Manuel’s deep and resonant voice.
The story came to an end; Manuel doffed his regalia, and like a gracious host that he was, invited us to remain for a cup of tea which his good wife was even then preparing.
During the course of several weeks KD got half a dozen Indian folklore tales from Manuel, whipped them into shape for radio production, and sold the series to the C.B.C.
Years later, when Chief Narcise Baptiste died, Manuel was the logical choice to head the tribe for he possessed a fund of common sense, wisdom, and good nature that made him stand out above other members of the Nk’Mip people.
Time passes, the grim reaper takes his toll, and now Chief Manuel has been gathered to his fathers. I raise a farewell salute to a fine gentleman and a raconteur of rare ability.
Wally’s column ends here.
From what I remember of Chief Manuel Louie, he was in touch with nature. Wally called upon him to help deal with the pesky beavers which were cutting down his fruit trees. Chief Manuel recognized each beaver sign and by examining the trails the beavers left, even called them by name, such as ” Three Toes ” who had once left two toes in one of his traps.
Chief Manuel declined to help at that time because the season was wrong, it was spring and the pelt would be wasted so he refused to be part of squandering a valuable resource. Wally would have to wait for winter if he was to have Chief Manuel’s help. Wally couldn’t wait and had to deal with the beavers now, but that is another story.