Nasukin Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band. Photo: Brian Lawrence

Mayuk Ana: Ermine Necklace

A short story written by Jason Louie, to help children understand COVID-19

  • Nov. 30, 2020 12:00 a.m.

By Nasukin Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band

My name is Two Feathers. I come from the land called Ermine Necklace. Ermine Necklace describes our bond as Ermine people. Each one of our people wears a necklace which symbolizes our strong and powerful bond. We wear the necklace with great pride and joy. I am so proud to be from the land of Mayuk Ana (Ermine Necklace).

I have two other brothers besides me. I am the youngest of three brothers. My older brother’s name is Red Sky and the eldest is named Takes Many Guns. I love my brothers and my brothers love me. We do everything together! From time to time, we get into trouble as young boys do, but we try our very best to make our grandma proud.

When we were very young, our parents passed away. There was a horrible accident where mom and dad were trying to cross the river but the river current was too strong and carried them away, and they were never to be seen again.

I don’t really remember mom and dad, but big brother Takes Many Guns remembers them best. He tells us stories about what mom and dad were like. I really enjoy it when big brother tells us stories about mom and dad. Takes Many Guns shared that mom was a very pretty Ermine, and dad was very big and strong.

Takes Many Guns said that mom and dad loved each other very much. Sometimes, I find it difficult to understand why people have to die. Why did the Creator take mom and dad away from us? It also makes me sad sometimes to think about mom and dad, and being an orphaned child.

After mom and dad passed away, we were sent to live with grandma. Our grandma’s name is Juniper. Juniper was the mother of our mother. Sometimes, grandma Juniper cries because she misses our mom and dad. We all miss them. We know that grandma loves us with all of her heart.

Grandma Juniper is such a great cook. She makes miracles with every meal. Sometimes we fall on hard times and food is very difficult to come by, but grandma always finds a way to make great meals. Grandma makes such good stew and fry bread. If we are lucky on some days, she makes tripe! I’m getting hungry just telling you about all of her great food.

Grandma Juniper likes to sing to us and we love to sing with her. Grandma is the keeper of our sacred songs. Grandma tells me that I have a gift for singing. She tells me that my voice is beautiful and the creator has blessed me with the gift to sing. Somehow, I can remember every song that grandma sings, and if grandma sings a song that I haven’t heard before, I can remember it.

Our favourite song to sing with grandma is “dance behind your auntie.” Grandma said that this song tells us to do as our aunties do. She said that our aunties are our teachers. Aunties become mom when mother is not around. Our mother is no longer on this earth, so I think that is why my brothers and I love singing this song with grandma.

Sing three verses of the song with the children/families lanta naka wilxan il titi il lkamu woo woo!

Aside from my brothers, I have a best friend named Big Water. My brothers tease me that someday, Big Water will be my wife. I am just a young Ermine and I don’t want a girlfriend or a wife. Big water is very pretty but she is just my friend. She joins my brother and I in our adventures. I just enjoy being a kid.

Our life was so much fun. We played stick games. We would go swimming. Sometimes, we would join the older Ermine in our community and go on hunting parties to search for food for the community. Big Water would become sad when we would leave for the hunts because she wasn’t allowed to go. The hunting party was just for the men-folk. This made me sad too, but I know that the women in our village also had important jobs that we as males weren’t allowed to do. Everyone in the community had a place and everyone had a job to do. We were all important.

One morning, all of the older and younger Ermine set out to hunt for the village as food stores were becoming low. I remember this day well. The sun was rising over the mountains. I remember this morning because this was the day that would change our lives forever.

We were hunting in a land that we had never been to before. Things appeared to be different in this land. It felt cold. It felt lonely. We did not see any animals that we could hunt. Although the sun was shining, this place appeared to be dark.

I was walking with brother Red Sky. He said that he was not feeling good. He began to cough. He said that he felt very cold and then said that his body felt hot. I touched brother Red Sky’s forehead and his skin felt hot to touch. I told our hunting chief that Red Sky was not feeling well, and he told my brother Takes Many Guns and I to bring him home. Red Sky could not walk as he was becoming more weak from this sickness.

This sickness wasn’t like when we had a cold or the flu. This sickness was different. This sickness made my brother cough and he said that it hurt badly. Brother said that he would feel hot and then cold. Red Sky said that he felt like he could not smell anything. He also said that sometimes he could not taste food. Takes Many Guns and I had to carry our brother back to the village, as this sickness made him so weak that he could not walk on his own.

We brought Red Sky back into our lodge and told grandma that brother was very sick and what his symptoms were. We laid brother down in his bed and grandma tried to feed Red Sky food, but brother did not have an appetite to eat anything. We were all very worried for our brother.

I left our lodge to go and see my friend Big Water. As I came to Big Water’s lodge, I seen her mother and asked to see Big Water. Big Water’s mother said that her daughter was very sick. She said that Big Water had a very bad cough and a fever, then she would get the chills and become very cold. Big Water’s mother said that I should leave as she was worried that I may become sick if I seen her, so I returned to our lodge.

Upon returning to our lodge, I seen grandmother Juniper crying. I’ve never seen grandma cry in the way that she was. I recognized this cry. This was the type of crying that happened when someone passed away. Grandmother Juniper told me that my brother passed away. My brother Red Sky died because of this mysterious sickness. The sickness which includes the bad cough, where it feels like there is fire that is being coughed.

I felt so very sad. I felt so very confused. My brother was not old. My brother has had a cold and flu before, and that sickness never took anyone’s life. I began to understand that this sickness was not a simple cold or flu. This new sickness was something that we do not fully understand. I became very concerned for my best friend Big Water. Would this sickness also take her life?

Grandmother Juniper said that we should seek help from the medicine man. His name was Papa. Papa means grandfather in our language. Papa said that he was everyone’s grandfather. Our entire village loved and respected Papa. He was the community healer. We came to Papa to ask for his help and guidance for how we should fight this sickness.

Papa had a ceremony, and a vision from the spirits came to him and told him many important things. He said that this sickness is a spirit. It is a bad arrow that came to our village from another land. Bad Arrow is very powerful and there is much that we don’t understand about it right now. But what the spirits did say was that we should help protect ourselves, we all should start to wear a covering or a mask on our face to help prevent us from being sick.

Papa said that our ceremonies are strong and not to forget about them but for now we should find a new way of doing things. In our sacred sweat lodges, we should sweat with only those who live in our homes. When we light our smudge and sing we should once again only do this with those who live in our lodge. It seems as though when there are large groups gathering this attracts the bad arrow medicine. Papa said we need to keep our groups small.

I believe what the spirits told Papa to was true, but it does make me sad that we cannot do many things that we could once do. I will do what the spirits have instructed us to do because I do not want any more of our Ermine people to become sick. Papa said that he and the other medicine people will try every day to find a cure for this bad arrow. Until that comes for the cure, we all know what we must do. As a young Ermine, I do have many sad days and many days where I am confused and do not understand why this sickness took the life of my brother. How long will this sickness last? When I am confused and sad, I know that I can talk to grandma Juniper or Papa. They help to understand things better.

My friend Big Water was sick for two weeks with this sickness. Others in the village continue to get sick. Papa said that we should do something called social distancing. Social distancing is when we stay six feet away from one another. We always wear our masks when not at our lodges. We still have activities but we do things in much smaller groups now because this is how we stay safe. This is the new way of doing things.

Papa said that Bad Arrow is known around the world as COVID-19. COVID-19 is in every community around the world. It’s not just us who are getting sick. We must trust our medicine people with the important information that they share with us of how to be safe. Medicine men and women are also known as doctors. Doctors can be men and women who know about medicine that can be used to help us. If there isn’t medicine that can help us, doctors help us to understand what it is that we should do.

Bad Arrow took the life of my brother. It was not his fault that he passed away. I miss him each and every day. Red Sky would want me to tell other children about him and his sickness. This is why I am telling all of you about COVID-19. I want you all to wear your mask. Wearing a mask doesn’t make you weak, it makes you a warrior like my brother Red Sky! If you see someone wearing a mask you should never make fun of them. Bad Arrow does not care who you are or where you live. It does not care if you are young or if you are old. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl. COVID-19 (Bad Arrow) can make you very sick or even take your life. We all must do our best to protect ourselves.

My name is Two Feathers. I am from Mayuk Ana. I wear my mask like I wear my Ermine necklace. I wear my necklace with pride and wear my mask like a true warrior. We will get through this together. We will get through this through caring and listening to our medicine people. TAXAS.

Creston Valley Advance