Coast Salish Stories: The first stage of life
By Celestine Aleck (Sahiltiniye) of Snuneymuxw First Nation
Lately, the topic of “the first stage of life” has come up while I have been talking to other Indigenous mothers. In Coast Salish teachings, the first stage of life refers to the one-year period when children start becoming adults. There are four stages of life in total, and the second, third and fourth stages of life involve other key teachings around loss and ceremony.
But what happens during the first stage is largely what shapes us for the rest of our lives and is of crucial importance for that reason. This is the time when young Coast Salish men and women traditionally go through puberty rites, which includes taking river or ocean baths, and learning crucial skills such as hunting and fishing as well as cultural teachings. Some children seem to be going through the first stage of life at a young age, while some are in grade six or seven.
As a single mother, I helped my son with his first stage of life when he was 12. It was a learning process for both of us as I was not fortunate enough to have these teachings when I came into my own first stage. Now being a single mother to a son, I had to find out what my son needed to do during his first ocean bath, and how many days he had to follow these beautiful teachings. All I knew was that the first year of how my son carried himself would determine how he would be until his second or third stage. I had explained to him that this is why I was passing these teachings along. This process went on for a whole year before he became a young man.
When the time came for my son’s first stage of life, I too was going through a stage in life, with menopause, which made it especially challenging. There were times when I would have a talk with my son about his temperament and the need to be calm, and all of the sudden a hot flash would hit me and I’d have to fight to be calm myself. But he would always be kind enough to get me a glass of water. I am so proud of my son, because he never hesitates to help people. He doesn’t let his temper get the best of him and remains calm in any situation. As I sat writing this article, he came and asked me if I would like breakfast cooked for me, and I think I must have done something right if my now 15-year-old son is thoughtful enough to do something nice for his mom. To this day, I always try to share teachings while we are around a table sharing a meal so that he will always remember the teachings.
I believe that in order for us to have a strong, healthy future, we should make every effort possible to raise our children with the teachings that our ancestors fought so hard to keep alive.
Residential school really took a toll on our ways of life which is the reason these teachings have not had a chance to be handed down. Our dear survivors have carried their hurt for many years, because when they had come home from residential school many had felt as though they didn’t fit in within the community anymore or did not have the courage to share what had happen to them. Many of the families that had lost their children to residential school never had a chance to pass along teachings to them. It truly has disrupted our ways of life, but I am ever so thankful for the elders that had truly fought hard to keep these teachings alive. I would love to see these teachings come back strong with our youth in their first stage of life. We need to raise our children to be strong, and I see that strength in teachings that have been handed down from our ancestors. We must lift our youth up and let them know anything is possible.
I think one way we can start to heal is by sharing our stories with each other, and learning from each other. If there is a teaching or story you would like to share relating to this column or others, or if you have any questions, please by all means email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Celestine is a published writer/illustrator who considers herself very fortunate to have learned some of the rich stories of Coast Salish territory from her elders. She can be contacted at email@example.com.