When Ulkatcho elder Minnie Sill passed away at Cariboo Memorial Hospital on Jan. 8, 2008 an important link to the old ways was lost.
Minnie was only 72 but she lived a hard and rigorous life. She never went to school and received her whole education the traditional way from her elders.
She must have had good teachers because she could speak six languages, Southern Carrier, Northern Carrier, Tsilhqot’in, Shuswap, Nuxalk and English. She was also very adept in her life in the bush, raising 13 children while living the rich lifestyle of the Ulkatcho people.
From an early age Minnie learned the skills of hunting, trapping, fishing, preparing meals and keeping people fed using the bounty from the land. She worked along side her husband Pat Sill building fences and cabins, cutting hay and travelling throughout the country with her large family, moving with the seasons.
Minnie was the second oldest of eight children born to Joe and Mary Cahoose of Salmon River, an expansive flatland and series of meadows along the Dean River, about 60 kilometres north of Anahim Lake. Her siblings included sisters Tilda Sill, Joana Cahoose and Agness Toney, and brothers Timothy Cahoose, Alexie Cahoose, Lashaway Cahoose and John Cahoose.
Born in Bella Coola on Oct. 19, 1935, Minnie and her mother were brought home to Ulkatcho country by horseback by her father, Joe Cahoose, 160 kilometres along the Nuxalk Carrier Grease Trail, over the Rainbow Mountains to Salmon River.
“Don’t go too fast, I love my baby,” Mary is said to have told her husband.
Like other Ulkatcho families, Joe and Mary had their own meadows, trapline and hunting territory near Salmon River, where Joe shared a ranching operation with his three brothers George, Andrew and Tommy Cahoose.
“All the brothers shared a ranch at Salmon River,” says Susan Hance, Minnie’s eldest daughter.
Susan says her mother used to sing a lot when she was young.
“When she gets across the river when she was a teenager, people remember hearing her sing. Sometimes they told her to stop singing because they were afraid it would cause an earthquake.”
Minnie was known as a powerful person. One time she had a premonition that she was going to lose one of her children, and she beseeched the Great Spirit to take her horse instead. The next day her favourite horse died.
“She gave us a hint how to be sensitive to spiritual things,” says one of Minnie’s other daughters, Gloria Eglin. “If you don’t speak to her in Carrier she gets mad at you. She passed on her wisdom and knowledge of spirituality to members of her family.”
Susan says her mother was the matriarch of the family.
“She was like a queen. She held our family together.”
Maybe it was her singing that attracted him, but Minnie caught the eye of a young man, Pat Sill, when she was barely a teenager. It is said Minnie was quite beautiful as she was growing into womanhood and she had many suitors.
“She was so pretty everyone was fighting over her,” says Gloria.
Pat rode his horse 60 kilometres from the Blackwater to Squirrel Cabin on his trapline just to be with Minnie, notes son Kenny Sill.
“There was love in the air when Minnie and Pat got together. He swam his horse across Tsanaih Lake to visit her,” Susan adds.
In the summer of 1951, Minnie and Pat Sill were married by the bishop in Anahim Lake.
“Mom was only 15,” says daughter Maureen Sill. “When they got married she had all these different coloured ribbons on her dress.”
A year later Susan was born, followed by Cassidy, Maureen, Bella, Gloria, Gabriel, Douglas, Emily, Kenny, Berl, Derreck, Michael and Charlotte.
“There was no birth control in those days,” says son Douglas. “You could blame our large family on the cold nights, long winters and living in a log cabin.
“That was before global warming,” he laughs.
Pat and Minnie raised their kids at Uskisula, their traditional hunting area in the country down the Dean River, north of Anahim Lake, and successfully passed on the skills to them how to live in the bush. This included hunting, trapping, fishing, working with horses and cattle, building log cabins, and living in harmony with the seasons. They knew where and when to go to harvest the resources from the land, even though it meant travelling hundreds of miles by horseback throughout the year.
After attending the “Indian” residential school in Anahim Lake, Susan says she was supposed to continue her education at the mission in Williams Lake, but her mother intervened.
“Mom pulled me out of going to the mission,” Susan says.
From her 13 children, Minnie had over 100 grandchildren and great grandchildren at the time of her passing.
She leaves to mourn her husband, Pat, and children Susan Hance, Cassidy Sill, Maureen Sill, Gloria Eglin, Bella Parker, Gabriel Sill, Douglas Sill, Kenny Sill, Emily Sill, Berl Sill, Derreck Sill, Michael Sill and Charlotte Sill.
Also her siblings John Cahoose, Tilda Sill, Timothy Cahoose, Alexie Cahoose, Lashaway Cahoose, Agness Toney and Joana Cahoose.
Funeral services for Minnie will be in Anahim Lake on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 10 a.m.