A Spirit Moves On

Two weeks ago, the spirit of a gentle teacher, knowledge keeper, and friend left this physical realm known as Turtle Island.

Leaving behind a massive legacy as a self-described Ktunaxa “junior elder”, Wayne Louie, was one of a small cadre of Ktunaxa Nation members fluent in their isolated dialectic language. A skilled outdoorsman and naturalist, he  was also only one of two knowledge keepers that still built (and used) the unique sturgeon noses canoe–the main method of transportation that allowed the his ancestors to roam the Columbia Valley in the north to the southern reaches of eastern Washington State, Idaho, and Montana, to the Okanagan Valley in the west, to the foothills of the western Rockies in the east.

wayne
Wayne tests out a newly-minted bow made from yew wood.

I had the immense (and highly pleasurable) privilege of working with Wayne for the past three years in my role as an indigenous support teacher at a local middle school.

As a member of Yaqan Nukiy (Lower Kootenay Band), Wayne made several trips over the Kootenay Pass from the Creston Valley to mentor groups of aboriginal students. From making replicas of the bulrush tipi used by his ancestors for thousands of years (the tipi that our youth built with Wayne was part of a national indigenous showcase at the 150 Year Canada Day Celebration in Vancouver), to mentoring students while they built a beautiful seven-foot replica of a sturgeon nose canoe for display in the school. Wayne modelled patience as students learned to weave the dried bulrush reeds or used the bitterroot strips to put together the  ribs of the canoe.

Wayne was most proud to sharing his ancestry and sacred knowledge with youth. Before the annual youth pow wow held in Creston every spring, Wayne invited our students to visit him on the land of his ancestral birthplace on the Creston Flats. As a knowledge keeper, Wayne was always more than happy to share his culture, passion and skills with anyone willing to listen and learn. I was always game.

Wayne was a survivor of the 60s Scoop and even spent time in a colonial “boarding school” (Wayne’s euphemism for the residential school). At the age of sixteen he was “let go by government folks because [he] kept running away” from the various foster homes he was sent to live. Once in a while he would share a bit of this part of his life. But rarely.

Wayne passed away after suffering a massive heart attack while working construction on the highly fractious and political Site C Dam in Northern British Columbia. My friend spoke often of the struggles he had with helping to build something that would have such an enormous and permanent impact on the land that he so cherished.

Wayne leaves behind eight children. His second youngest, Kai, is a teacher at the local secondary school in Creston. Wayne would often share how proud he was of Kai and how “[he] will help [to] influence future young native kids to finish their schooling…[and] return to the community to help [future] youth.” Wayne often shared his vision for an education system that embraced both western and indigenous ways of learning, knowing, and being in the world.

I will miss Wayne’s easy going smile, the joy that he radiated while sharing a story, the gentle and patient approach that he had while working with often distracted youth. I will miss our planning conversations over the phone. I will miss his wry sense of humour. I will miss his ability to be present; of being here in the now. I will miss learning from him.

I have lost a teacher.

I have lost a friend.

You are at peace now, ¢aʔnam.

 

JY

One thought on “A Spirit Moves On

  1. If you ask my Uncle Wayne’s children they will tell you I was his oldest son. I was fortunate to have him as a teacher, among many other elder’s who are now passed. Grandma Louie, ensured that a member of our family will always keep our tradition and culture alive. Since the passing of my uncle there was a huge void to fill. So I have now taken this responsibility on. His helpers are now my helpers and his dreams still resonate among us. So we have built a tipi camp that will be traveling around our traditional territory living and teaching our culture. It was very unfortunate with the passing of my uncle, but his legacy lives on and we have made it even stronger. As ȼa·ǂa we are untethered with conventional employment or have a need for it and yet we thrive. We are looking forward to the end of this pandemic to allow for anyone who wishes to learn how to do it for themselves and even provide an opportunity for anyone to join us. We provide food, tipi’s for those who wish to stay and we don’t charge a dime. This is our life and not a show so there are camp chores. This April you will see our camp set up along side highway 21 close to silver spoon cafe in Creston, BC. When the pandemic restrictions ease up feel free to come on down and learn how to tan hides, build our bull rush tipi, canoes, construct duck nets and learn how to collect and prepare medicine along with having an opportunity to hear our stories. As a strong believer in my culture and our full creation story, I consider everyone in my territory between the two arches as my people equally. I will show anyone who’s has desire to learn what that means.

    We are not affiliated or funded by the Ktunaxa Nation or any of the bands contained within. Unlike those organizations we don’t have an agenda that resembles government but the empowerment of everyone equally to be independent and free.

    Like

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