Last week, I had the great honour of meeting and speaking with Robert Louie Sr. and his wife Denise.
Robert is a hereditary chief of the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB). He’s also an Elder and cultural carrier who has written three books about his Flat-bow Kutenai heritage.
Prior to our discussion, I had heard a great deal about Robert and his storytelling abilities through Sharon Svanda at the Creston Valley Arts Council. This gave me an idea of what to expect from Robert, but I would be lying if I said that I still wasn’t impressed by what he had to say.
A stream of stories flowed from his mouth. I sat there in awe as he effortlessly recounted everything from his experiences to narratives about his culture and heritage.
I thought to myself: “Here is this wise, Indigenous Elder who, at the tender age of 70, is generously feeding me all this historical information about his ancestry – much of which is undocumented.”
I could listen to Robert speak all day. My hour-long discussion with him and his wife was inspiring, to say the least.
But I was a little down afterwards when I remembered that Robert is one of the last of a generation who has this breadth of knowledge about the Flat-bow Kutenai’s cultural history and teachings.
I’ve been told that many of the Elders of the LKB do not have the same knowledge or expertise about their history and heritage as Robert does. As a result, the youth of the LKB have little to no one to turn to and listen to gain a deeper understanding of their culture, history, wisdom and beliefs.
The sad reality is that this is common in several Indigenous groups and communities across Canada. Elders – many of whom are the cultural carriers in many of these groups – are dying, and a group’s entire history can be lost in the process.
Languages, traditions, beliefs, teachings – all are susceptible to vanishing when an Elder dies.
This is why it’s so vital that we document and preserve the historical knowledge of such Indigenous cultural carriers. Not only are we keeping their memory and their heritage alive, but it opens the door for non-Indigenous peoples to truly learn about who they are.
It’s important to emphasize too that this is history straight from the source: it’s told from their perspective, with their own voice. Hearing and learning their side of history can expand our own perspective about our country and its history.
More importantly, documentaries like the one that is being created about Robert and his knowledge help Indigenous youth make sense of who they are and where they come from.
I read stories all the time about Indigenous youth dying at a young age due to suicide or substance abuse, and that’s because many of these kids struggle with their identities.
One’s culture and heritage are what gives them pride and a sense of self. Sharing the great knowledge of an Elder with the youth allows all these notions to live on for generations to come.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org