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Renewing, Healing, Honouring, and Transforming the Legacy by Helen Haig-Brown

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My Grandmothers

I remember my ?Etsu (grandmother), Helena, telling me a story of being up in the Potato mountains when she was two years old.  Every spring our people left their homes in the Nemiah Valley (Xeni) and went into the mountains to harvest wild potatoes, like some of my family still do.  This specific trip to the mountains was different, it was lifesaving.  It was 1918 and luckily my ?Etsu's great grandfather Sit'ax was with them. He was a powerful medicine man, and his power sensed a great danger back home in the valley.   With this knowledge, they stayed in the mountains until my great great great grandfather felt the danger had subsided.  My ?Etsu tells me that when they returned to their home they found many people dead.  The flu epidemic of 1918 had ravaged the community.

 

The words that have stuck with me the strongest from this story, is the way my ?Etsu described what her mother, Annie, said of the time after returning to their home in the valley.  She said she felt so lonely that she wanted to die.

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My ?Etsu - Helena Myers // Artwork by Tania Willard // Photo by Linda Smith

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My ?Etsu's Mom - Annie Sammy (Elkins) // Artwork by Tania Willard // Photo from Family Archive

Our Legacy

I have spent much of the last five years thinking about the experiences of my ancestors and the legacy those experiences have left.  The deep sense of grief and loneliness that my great grandmother Annie experienced in the years after 1918 were in the shadows of what her parents’ and grandparents’ generation witnessed in the 1862 smallpox desecration, where disease hit so hard it left one of our villages with only two survivors. And then again, mirrored in my grandmother’s life, when her home was left empty when her children were taken to residential school. And then my mother, the child far away from home and family from the age of 6 to 18 held in the cold institutional walls of residential school.  That is four generations of a deep sadness.

 

I have had my share of depression and loneliness in my 34 years. Sometimes I’ve wondered if the sadness is all mine or whether some of the pain is my grandmothers’. In those moments of depression, I remember the all-consuming heaviness that left basic functioning difficult, let alone feeling the joy of life.

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Me - Helen Haig-Brown // Artwork by Tania Willard // Photo by Nadya Kwandibens

When I remember the very real impacts of my depression I can’t but feel in awe of my mother and grandmothers (and all ancestors). It is quite phenomenal how they were able to continue in the face of the horrific tragedies, along with the unimaginable grief they must have felt.  I honour them for their will and persistence to live, to have children, to work hard, to gather food and most of all, to survive.

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My ?Etsu - Helena Myers in the 1930's // Photo from Family Archive

Our Transformation

Although we have more than survived, there was much interruption in our harmony, our spirit, our language, our traditions, our wisdoms, and our expression. For many years now, there have been many who have worked towards healing and restoring these interruptions.  I hope for Legacy Interactive to follow in that tradition of regenerating health, culture and knowledge through sharing strengthening wisdoms and stories. How are some of us using our spirituality, our traditions and our knowledge to strengthen our lives? What do some of our personal healing journeys look like? What are some of the wisdoms we can share to support, teach and learn from each other? How are we creating and re-creating the legacy that we continue?

 

Some of the topics that I hope will be covered: 

 

Regenerating Health and Strength

  • Healing the heart, healing the family, healing women, healing men, healing the land, healing through art, expression, ceremony, and whatever other means.
  • Self love, love of others, love of the land, love of spirit.
 

Regenerating Culture and Knowledge for Health and Strength

  • Women’s life cycle: puberty, birthing, mothering, marriage, menopause, death.
  • Men’s life cycle and roles.
  • Spiritual guidance and teachings.
 

My Legacy

Over the past few years, I have been working on my ongoing Legacy documentary project, of which the TV version will air on APTN this fall.  In making this documentary I have explored the themes of healing, love and legacy, and I have collected many gems of wisdom and knowledge from my family and community that fall into the topics above. Some of these gems were not part of the story I wanted to tell with the documentary but were great teachings and lessons in and to themselves.  I am so happy that through this medium of conversation I have a platform to share these important stories and points of view with the world and I hope they create further dialogue, inspiration, and healing.

 

With that said, here is one of the gem’s. I approached my mom’s first cousin, Ronnie Solomon, to sing a song in honour of my great grandmother, and his grandmother Annie.  I initially approached him with the idea of translating Hank William Sr’s song “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” into our language Tsilhqot’in.  I thought the words were fitting to my great grandmother’s emotions at the time of the influenza outbreak. He quickly let me know, although it was a sweet idea, that it would not translate well into our language and would sound silly.  So he offered to write an original song in honour of her and my grandmother, Helena.  I am so glad he intercepted my plan, as the outcome was much more amazing. 

 

We recorded my cousin Ronnie singing this song at the end of Konni Lake in Nemiah Valley near the gravesites of those who died from influenza in 1918.

Welcome to Legacy Interactive! 

I wish for much sharing, caring and inspiration all in the spirit of Restoring, Healing, Honouring as well as Transforming the Legacy we continue. 

 

 

Helen Haig-Brown

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Comments

2 comments
  • Adrian Cox
    Adrian Cox This is a great post Helen! I don't think you ever told me the entire flu story before. I did not know Helena's great grandfather was with them and played such a prominent roll in their decision to stay in the mountains.
    July 15, 2013
  • Celia Haig-Brown
    Celia Haig-Brown Thank you so much, Helen, my darling niece. Your uncle's singing is so hauntingly beautiful, a perfect connection with your words.
    August 6, 2013