Posted by: Tad McIlwraith | May 22, 2011

The First Week: Busy Orientation and Time of Introspection

By David Parent

We have now spent a whole week in Enderby and I feel as though we have been here a month.  When I first arrived I was confused because the lodge that we are staying at is on the edge of the reserve, and on the other side of a hill from Enderby.  On the day that we arrived we were greeted by Randy [an elder and Splatsin councilor, -ed.] at the lodge.  We have learned, however, that Randy is a very involved and busy member of his community, so for our first day we were on our own.  Later in the evening he came over to teach us stick games, something that I have personally taking a big liking to.  We were told a story of which the stick game was based from, the condensed version goes as follows:  There are sticks that are worth value and the teams goal is to capture all of the sticks (sticks can also be known as feathers).  Each team has 5 and they compete for a stick called “the kicker”, the two teams play for this because it gives them an advantage to start the game.  During each round two people from each team hide “the bones” (pieces that are marked being male and the unmarked being female) there is a pointer/chooser on the opposing team that must find the female bone in order to stop the other team, if the pointer guesses wrong, their team loses a feather/stick.  There is traditionally a singer for each team.
On the second day we were invited to the Band Hall to meet the Chief and council.  Before attending the meeting we took some time to orient ourselves in Enderby and to visit the local library, where I learned that there were no books present about the local Splatsin people, however they had a good amount on Northwest Coast arts and culture.  I visited the health center where they had a beautifully carved medicine wheel, something that has appeared in a few places in Splatsin like at the arbour, and on some street signs.  The medicine wheel is a circle that is divided in four and each quarter has its own colour, they are red, yellow, white, and black.

At noon we were introduced to the Chief and Council where we welcomed by the chief.  When we arrived home Tad McIlwraith [instructor, -ed.] had great news for some of us; he told us that Randy had invited some of us to join him in an evening sweat.  At first I was a bit hesitant to go due to previous experience, however I decided to overcome my own fears and commit to joining Randy and some of my fellow students.  When we arrived at the sweat Randy had already prepared the fire to heat the rocks for the sweat.  He proceeded to show us the old village site where we saw many impressions of where pit houses were once inhabited.   For us, being students who are very eager to learn, this was the perfect opportunity for us to have some personal time to get to know Randy, and as we would find out, this would be a time where Randy would teach us a lot about his land, his culture, First Nations cultures in general, and even to a degree he taught us a little bit about ourselves.  The sweats were an intense time.  After the second round Randy brought up the medicine circle in our conversation, and explained that each quarter has its own healing property, furthermore he explained that the circle represents all races of men coming together and working together.  He taught us stories about the earth and about the land that we are now visitors of.  When we finished, Randy preceded to tell us that when a project is started on the night of a full moon, it is believed that you will achieve more success, for us, only being in Enderby for a month and just beginning our studies here this was a very kind thought, and in some ways a motivational push to strive to achieve the most possible while staying here.

On Thursday we were invited to a community gathering where we were officially invited into the community by Randy and Laureen who presented traditional songs, each for their respected gender.  We feasted on moose stew, and some other dishes that included salmon and mixed vegetables and grains.  We were invited to play more stick games, where we were taught about the bartering system of the Splatsin people.  Eventually we had a game where the two teams consisted of the field school students versus Randy, Laureen, her son and her nephew.  We had experience, but we learned that we lacked a music leader who would lead the team in singing songs to both distract and taunt the other team, needless to say I chose to step up to the plate and throw myself and my team into a cultural experiment.  I asked to borrow Randy’s drum and proceeded to start singing top 40′s hits, in which my team joined me, we learned quickly that the music helped us because it threw them, the experienced stick players off their game, as their laughter was surely throwing them off of their game.  While we played the stick game, it gave the other half of our group the chance to talk to elders.  Students reported that the elders found our songs to be funny and somewhat accepted to the point that one elder wanted a student to video tape us for her to keep.  I feel that this week has been great for our group, and that we have taken key steps that have allowed us to integrate ourselves into the community.  Next week there is a cultural gathering where we can hopefully have a stick game rematch.  Needless to say we have started a new catalog of songs to sing for our next encounter.

I’d like to thank everyone who has embraced us so far in the Splatsin community.  Your hospitality has been more than we could have ever asked for.

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Responses

  1. I think you and your group are quite fortunate to be able to participate in this field school, and to be welcomed the way you are. I like the way you open your post with a comment on confusion. Get used to it. Lots of things appear confusing at first in fieldwork, but mostly they eventually become clear. Fieldwork often involves a very steep learning curve, and being flexible, adaptable, and able to think on your feet so to speak, all come in handy. You demonstrated this, I think, with coming up with your own songs for the stick game. It can be a tricky situation sometimes though. Getting others to laugh is often good. It is important to appreciate though, I think, that being laughed at, also happens. Being the butt of jokes is one of the roles of many a anthropologist.

    • Sorry for not replying earlier, and thank you for your comment. You are right my confusion disapated, and the questions that I asked were always answered. The most important thing that these people have taught me is how to listen, and that listening and hearing are two very different things. Being able to understand someones words and interpret what it is is they are feeling is far more important, and to start judgement before some one is done speaking is disrespectful and in many cases ends with you cutting yourself short of information. I learnt that being flexible and adaptable did help. For the most part making plans in this community did happen, things happen when they happen and theres no changing that. I found that laughter is what brought us together, to make another person laugh is to warm their heart. I feel now that there is a point where strangers become friends, and thats when both parties feel compfortable enough to laugh at and with each other. Thanks alot for your
      comments!

  2. your ability to adapt is going to help you in the long run! letting go of your usual comfort zone and trying something new with out hesitation is extremly benficial to you and your group. letting lose and having fun is crucial to your work as not everything is cut and dry business. setting time aside to forget about the books once and a while will enhance your experience and lighten the workload.

  3. Good for you for being willing to step outside your comfort zone. Important field experiences can come at any time, and you are doing the right thing by taking all the opportunities available to you. You’ll find that community members may warm up to you more quickly if you partake in these new experiences when asked.

    When I did fieldwork in Mexico, I was asked to join a group of people for after-dinner snacks. After sitting down at the table, I learned they were chapulines, or fried baby grasshoppers. Gulp. I realized this was a test – I could easily say no, eww, gross!, and fail. But refusing hospitality is a no-no; I knew that if I refused, it would be perceived as an insult. So I popped a few in my mouth. They were actually quite good, crunchy, with chile and lime. They tasted like Doritos! Thankfully, I passed.

  4. Great comments from the previous folks. It is true we are watched and studied as much as we do the watching and studying and being the butt of the joke or being tested is very common.

    I have made comments about mistakes I have made and Laura reminds me of seal eyeballs – I dodged that one by offering the eyeball to the kids because I knew they would love them. (The community graciously accepted me and my deflection). And although I wasn’t doing actual field research, I was in Ecuador recently and invited into a home and as an honoured guest was offered “cui”. I knew what was coming and was prepared and while it wasn’t my favourite dish I can now say that I have eaten guinea pig. Living in Indonesia brought many delicacies including ants, sago (very gelatinous plant substance) and some unidentified (to me) sea animals and other meats. I have passed all the tests to varying degrees and have broadened my understanding of what is “edible” if nothing else!


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