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.
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.