Cecilia DeRose and Agness Jack were among the speakers sharing their stories at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin’s Talking Circle event held last Saturday, Feb. 23 to celebrate Heritage Week.
Cecilia DeRose was brought into this world by a midwife at Esket (Alkali Lake).
“My mother was Emilia Joe and my dad was Matthew Dick. His father was Dick Johnson, and my dad and his brother went by their dad’s first name.
DeRose says she was raised on her family’s meadow near Lac la Hache and only came to the Esket village for Christmas and Easter or for funerals.
“We spent most of our time in the meadows and came to Williams Lake for groceries two times a year.”
She says the main attraction for her at stampede was Squaw Hall.
“There were 10 kids in our family and I was fourth in line. Everything was hard work. I had to do chores like my brothers.”
She says her father had hay contracts at various ranches like Circle S, Alkali Lake and Empire Valley.
He also guided for Buster Hamilton and eventually got his own guiding and trapping area.
“We lived on moose, deer, rabbit, squirrel, muskrat or beaver; all the meat out there.
“We planted a garden at Alkali and harvested the potatoes in the fall.”
DeRose says they gathered medicines and berries and her mother always kept chickens. “When we went travelling anywhere, my mother always hauled our chickens with us in the wagon or sleigh to Alkali and back again.”
Though most kids went to the mission at nine years old, DeRose says she begged her mother to let her go at seven years old.
“I begged to go to school because I thought life would be easier there.
“School was only from 9 o’clock to noon, then we had to work. At the mission we weren’t allowed to do anything with our culture.”
Cecilia says the kids had “Indian” names for the Mission sisters.
“One Superior Mother, we never saw her smile. When she left, a younger one took over. We called her the Owl because we thought she could see behind her head.”
At the mission they only kept children until they were 16 years old, and highest grade they offered was Grade 8.
“So that’s all the schooling that I got. They were afraid to educate me any more.”
Agness Jack hails from the Canoe Creek/Dog Creek Secwepemc community, about 100 kilometres down the Fraser River from Williams Lake.
She says her people’s relationship with settlers moving into the country began in the mid-1800s.
“The original Gold Rush Trail came over the mountain from Lillooet to Canoe Creek and Dog Creek,” Jack said.
Her grandmother, Susan Jim, lived to 110 years old and was the last living member of her generation in the community.
“She talked of how the Canoe and Dog Creek members worked alongside the first settlers, both the Chinese and Caucasian.
The Chinese people worked along the river panning for gold.”
Agness says the Chinese people took care of the laundry in the Dog Creek Hotel.
“Sometimes my grandmother worked with them. She didn’t know any Chinese or English, and they didn’t know any Secwepemc or English, but when they told a story and laughed, she laughed along with them. And when she told a story in her language and laughed, they laughed too. So they shared their cultures through laughter.”
Agness says her 94-year-old mother hears young people talking about wanting to go back to the old days, but she is skeptical whether they are capable of the hard work it required to survive in those times.
“The work to tan a hide is more than most people realize. In the old days people would pick berries and sell them to get money to buy things necessary for the family.”
Agnes says her father was a cowboy and in the early days people made their own entertainment.
“People brought their own bucking stock or whatever horses they needed for the rodeo. It took us two days by horse and wagon to go to the Williams Lake Stampede from Dog Creek.”
She says her parents worked together as a team to do whatever had to be done.
“There was no such thing as men’s work and women’s work. My dad was quite a good cook, and my mom worked with my dad trapping, skinning and selling pelts.”
Agness is complimentary of Hillary Place who owned the Dog Creek Store and bought the fur pelts from the local trappers.
“He knew how hard the people worked to get the fur so he always showed the books, and just how little he took in the way of a commission.”
She says people of different cultural backgrounds have a history of working together.
“Our people worked alongside the ranchers. The early Chinese settlers showed us how to make water flumes to carry water.
“Our ancestors didn’t have time to fight with the settlers and gold miners. We walked side-by-side to get where we are today. Sometimes we forget that.”