Words from our Elders: Dexter Asapace Kawacatoose First Nation
- | February 05, 2021
These words of wisdom by Dexter Asapace are from the book Meskanawiyiniwak Volume ll. The Elders were recorded and photographed and published by Ted Whitecalf and a team including Marilyn Poitras, Jacqueline Gabriel and the late Pamela Whitecalf. Check back monthly for words from our Elders.
I was born in Kawacatoose, delivered by my grandmother. She called me, because of my eye colour, koh-koh-kohow (owl), July 21,1947.
My grandfather named me musqua pipiquan, Bear Whistle, and my grandmother named me Red Eagle. I didn’t remember my grandparents. My grandmother’s name was Fanny Crowbuffalo who was married to Jim Asapace. My father was George Asapace and my mother was Matilda Malbuff. She was given away for adoption, she was raised by the Favel’s by old lady Favel, and later in time met my dad, George Asapace, kihew was his Indian name. My grandmother’s name was mikakos, her spiritual name. My grandfather’s spiritual name, I didn’t know his name.
I was born on the Poorman’s Reserve now known as Kawacatoose. Grew up pretty, rough had a rough life. My brothers and sisters, all 13 of us grew up rough. At that time my father was engaged in alcohol. I was in Residential School from the age of seven. Today seven of us are living.
As time went on I still maintained my language Cree and Saulteaux. I was lucky not to lose any of that in Residential School when I was there for three years, not long enough I guess. I didn’t learn a lot in the White Man way.
I grew up and was raised by the old people. One of the uncles I learned a lot from was Stanley Asapace. Teachings came from him and my dad. One of the main things they taught me was kisewatitatowin, love and caring. Today I don’t see that.
Before everybody used to work together, took care of the sick on the reserve. They took care of their horses, livestock, cut wood or what ever he had that had to done. I remember as well they took time as a group and (made) mud houses and barns for people when they were constructing their buildings for the winter. To me those were the good old days, where people cared for one another, we learned from that. Today you don’t see that anymore.
I remember when I was about seven years old on Christmas Eve, 45 below, living in a tent. My dad had left us and we had nothing to eat, we were all hungry. Mom said, “Go out and see if you can kill a rabbit or something.” So my brother and I went out on this cold morning. As we were walking in the deep snow, we saw a deer leg sticking out of the snow bank, here it was a deer that someone had wounded and died there, we ate that deer that was kind of spoiled. This is something I will never forget that day. But sometimes then we would not eat for four days. This was hard times. Trying ways to survive. This was one of the hardest times in my life, there were many.
I went to school in a one room building here in Poorman’s. I went as far as grade six. I kind of feel sorry I didn’t go farther, but today when I think about it I’m glad that I got my traditional way of teaching from our Elders. This I maintain today to have my culture, my language. To know who you are as a First Nation Person you have to have that identity. I always say that because this is what I learned.
As time went on I used to run five miles to clean barns, cut pickets for the farmers earning money to feed my siblings. I though a lot about our mother. She was a person who was a kind hearted mother, she would go days in not eating, she made sure we had something to eat. She was always thinking about us. My dad was never around, he was on this road, that was not good.
As time went on I met my wife, I could say there is only one time in my life that I was on welfare. One winter I remember we ran out of milk for our baby, so I went to this farm instructor’s house to ask for assistance. He told me to go to work. There was still a bit of snow left on the ground. And there was no work here, so I said I can go some place else to feed my baby. I didn’t have no suit cases so I put all my stuff in a cardboard box and we got a ride to Highway six and we got dropped off there. We didn’t know where we were going. I always say that someone took care of me. To this day.
When we arrived at the bus depot with no money and standing around, a white man approached and asked where I was trying to go. I said to Alberta, he said why don’t you go in the restaurant and order some food for your family, he said. So this guy comes back, while I was wondering if he was going to pay for our meal, he handed me two one-way tickets to Lethbridge Alberta and some money for my baby to eat.
When we arrived in Alberta we stayed at the hostel, so in the morning this Japanese guy comes along saying to everybody, “Anyone want to work?” He came directly to me, so we went with him to this farm in Grassy Lake to work. Stayed in a house he gave us. He took us to Taber and shopped for groceries and all the things we needed for our baby. We filled up two big cartons. Then he took me back to the farm, and I worked for him for a lot of years. One time he left the farm for me to look after everything, I had built that trust with him. In these days you have to build that relationship of trust and honesty.
To this day I thank the person who refused me welfare. What if I would of received that assistance that day, then I would not have had the experience of life that I did.
I was told by my Elders, when you choose a woman for a partner you have to care and love her, and this is what I have done up to now. I was a good hunter, I hunted lots, muskrat trapping in the winter, rabbits, weasel, anything with a price tag, to make money. Today I still have wild meat in my freezer. I don’t want my kids to experience the life that I had which is starvation.
I have a good life. Never been fired from any job. I always work to the end, now working for 34 years here as a bus driver. I’m a powwow dancer and bringing my kids through this, in the Powwow circuit in a traditional life. When my kids were small I always played with them. Did a lot of things with them. I believe in the Creator. Seen a lot of things in my time, healing thru prayers and the medicines.
I’m a person that don’t judge. My dad used to say, “don’t ever judge a person. In prayer there is only one Creator, never laugh at a person, we are all kids of the Creator.”
My uncle Stanley was always looking after himself combing his hair, wearing clean clothes, so I asked him “how come you are always looking clean and neat?” He said “our Creator gave us this body and life, that we should take care of that way.”
“Also if one day I drop dead at least I’m nice and clean,” he said. Today people criticize me in how I dress, so I think back of what my uncle used to say about dressing up. Our Creator gave us one life so we have to take care of that. Today I notice the young people don’t look after themselves they don’t care. I don’t show off to people it’s just the way I dress. I talk to our young people that the way they dress, with the pants down, that is not right. That’s no way to dress. Even the ladies at ceremonies they should wear dresses.
Live the fullest each day as if it were your last. We have to go back the way it used to be in our ways of teaching traditionally to our young people. We are so distracted with technology today, even young people carrying these phones around and other things.
My uncle Stanley, he used to tell us stories. He would start in the evenings when the sun went down and go all night long. He told us stories and while he was telling these stories he would be teaching us how to walk this road of life. He told us stories about the White Buffalo, he talked about Wesakachak, all those stories he had.
Today when I think about him there are a lot of teachings on how people lived then. He had a good mind, had a good soft heart, he loved people. He also loved horses. Long time ago that was our livelihood, horses were our livelihood. We used horses for hauling wood. I used to chop wood, that was what we had to do. Didn’t matter what time, our people that were hauling wood. Arrived home, we had to take care of the horses, feed them and watered. In those days it was cold 30- 40-50 below we still had to do work. Today we are soft, our young people don’t want to work.
The old people had to hunt to survive, in them days there was no such thing as welfare, but later on rations came but very little, bags of flour. Them old people were survivors. Today we talk about the Residential School, those were the ones that had a rough time. The old ones have passed on, they had a hard time. I had a hard time in school but its all learning experience, even though we had it rough, life goes on no matter how hard it is.
I let drinking go a long time ago. I was a drunk person at one time. I’m thankful today for my good health. Today we don’t respect our old people, I see that happen. There is a lot of abuse of our old ones. Today, as I sit here, our Creator is listening to me. I took care of my parents, I couldn’t take care of my mother personally but I asked my wife if she would take care of her and she did till her passing, that I am very grateful for.
On the other hand I took care of my dad starting at 74, still engaged in alcohol which he passed on at 84. He left me with a lot of knowledge. Dad died early morning of Nov 12, 2000, I was happy he had left to a good place. My brothers and sisters used to say why don’t you put him in a home, but I couldn’t do that. He used to tell me a lot about pastahowin: in life we have to pay at the end. Another thing he used to tell me is forgiveness. It’s a hard thing to do, to forgive another person, you pray for the person that is hurting you or talking about you in a wrong way. Today I try to maintain the way of life to show my family. I want my children to be happy.
I remember growing up dreaming of having a horse but we were poor then, only had a team of horses. That was my dream, some day I would have a lot of horses, today I still have 50, a lot of horses along with cattle. I still maintain my culture, my language, I feel sorry for the young people today that don’t have that. You have to have your culture and language.
I hear and see Asian people teach their young ones till five or six years old, then English as a second language. As I was talking to one Asian lady this is what they do. We have to do something about this and the language has to come from home first. Sometimes I’m guilty about this too. We are not White People. We have to have the first language we were born with. In the future it’s going to be hard if we don’t start now. I talk to my family in Cree also in Saulteaux everyday. Every where I go I can communicate with the Elders, the Elders like this. We have to start early in the classrooms, have the curriculum in place and even the teachers should have their language, other wise we are losing out.
Its going to be hard in the future, young people have to go back to their traditions learn the culture, because there are no short cuts in life. They have to know the protocols of life. You have to pay for the knowledge that you are seeking from the Elder or person in a traditional protocol way. Because that’s the only way it’s going to work for you.
Talking English while picking medicines or talking English while conducting a pipe ceremony, it’s not our way. You use the traditional language, you are with the Creator, you are with Mother Earth and the Universe when you talk your language. You are communicating with our Creator and He listens to you along with the Grandfathers, this I firmly believe. And I still maintain that life today.
Some places people get offended today, they say that’s not their buffalo, that language. But that’s the way they take it. As a First Nation Person we should maintain our language, you will never be a White Man. Any way, this is what our Elders say. I’m talking in a humble way here, I’m talking about my life where it should be, not anyone else. I don’t mean to offend anybody.
I’m saying that we should go back to the way of humbleness and kindness if we go back to that our kids and young people will change. We live in a hateful, drug, alcohol world. This is where we are living today. Long ago there was a lot of love and respect for our people. They used their English names they always used their traditional names. Another thing is relationship and kinship. Parents are suppose to educate their kids who they are related to. Today there are a lot of close relations living together first cousins.
Also, when someone is doing good, we talk about him, try to bring him down. We have to learn how to encourage people, tell them they are doing a great job. Gossip is not the way. The only time we should talk about the person is how we should help or encourage them.
Long ago you hear that it takes a community to bring up a child, a good support system. My uncles and aunties used to sit us down and they told us a lot of things about life in a good way. They said that in the future things are going to be different and difficult. They said that there are things that are going to distract you, which we experience today. They talked about relationship, that too is happening.