"The Colourful 5% Volume Two"
As we pass through life we meet people. Some people who have a profound effect on us. Maybe even to a point of influencing our lives. Far too often we miss the fact they are planting seeds of wisdom and love into us and we fail to see it at the time.
I would like to introduce you too Iskwiw an elderly Cree Native lady that I met several years ago on a flight south out of the Yukon. Like often a brief chance meeting. Over the years I have met some of the most interesting people on aircraft yet Iskwiw is one that has always held a special place in my heart.
Come along with me as I share her story and the journey she shared with me. Please learn to love her through what I will write. There many lessons she taught in the short time we had together. Help your self to the goodies and please stay as long as you like and know that you are loved.
First allow me to describe this Lady. Like many of the past I failed to get pictures and I regret it often. I have chosen this picture as it reminds me of Iskwiw. Somewhat plain, humble and yet so very beautiful in mind, body and spirit.
The name Iskwiw in the Cree language has a simple meaning "Female." It is nothing profound it was tradition and custom of these people the father of the child chose the name. Iskwiw laughed when she explained the meaning of her name in english. She explained her dad was a simple man, a man of the land like her. He later told her it was the first thing he thought of and he wanted her to have a different name and that is what he gave her.
Iskwiw was born and raised in a Northern Community of Old Crow in the Yukon. Born into a simple lifestyle where each member of the community contributed to the well being and welfare of all. When the time came to hunt, fish or build, the entire community came together as one. It was a force to stand back and admire in what they could accomplish with the many talents and skills which were honed from early childhood.
Let me write you a picture of her. Iskwiw would have been no more than 5 foot 2 inches. Dressed in very plain functional clothes. Always a dress with a scarf covering her head. Her hands and skin were weathered from years of hard work in the outdoors. To look at her you could have passed right over her. Well that was until she smiled a toothless grin at you. Her eyes were always bright and filled with love for anyone who took the time to stop and say hello. She was highly respected in the community and was regarded for knowing all the history and her wisdom of conducting hunts and fishing camps. Small in structure but great in so many other areas.
Even the games they played as children were games that would be played out later in life to survive. Old Crow was a very isolated community and accessible only by air the better part of the year. Thus the outside influence of the white man was limited.
In the early years the first whites to arrive were the religious men of the North who had come to civilize the people. It was also the start of the decline of many of these outlaying posts throughout the North. As time passed alcohol and drugs were introduced and an epidemic of addictions took hold of the community.
Complete isolation and yet a place filled with such bounty. Drop any sort of hook in the waters and you would catch a lunch or a meal that would last a week as Iskwiw would say with a toothless smile.
As you can see totally in accessible by road and maybe a boat if you knew your way around. The main river was a source of transportation but it snaked its way throughout the land and would add many miles upon any attempted travel it.
Water ways such as these would provide much food for the community as they would have fish camps where the fish were caught, cleaned and skinned and hung over poles to dry in the sun. Light smoke and smudge fires would be built to further cure and preserve the food supply. Later they would be boiled and some of the best tasting fish one could ask for would be placed in front of you and given with humility.
As brutal as it may sound the Porcupine Caribou heard that passes through each year are the main source for food and skins for these people. The hunt is an annual affair that involves the young and old. Everyone is a part of this tradition.
The one thing I learned with hunting with these people is there is no part of the animal that goes to waste. They have found a use for every part and such a delight to be a part of. There is also the spiritual connection they have both with the Creator and the animal as they pray over its spirit and ask that its journey be one of peace.
The sight of these animals, thousands upon thousands moving as one is a sight to behold. All driven by a common goal and that is to reach their destination. Spring is the tradition migration North for calving season and then a return in the fall to the South and the wintering grounds. The hunt itself is a hunt of choosing the weak and the old as a natural progression to keeping the heard in good health.
Iskwiw had been sent to the south to be further evaluated for cancer treatment. A chance meeting for me as I saw the strength of this lady displayed over and over again during the two weeks I was able to spend around her.
We have all heard of how when people are faced with death the attempts they may go through to prolong the inevitable. It is our human nature to want to go on. Iskwiw was willing to look at the treatments but in her humble fashion chose to forgo the treatments and go home to quietly pass away.
I spoke with her doctor at length and he was amazed at her will to leave in such a peaceful manner. He stated he was completely shocked at her response when he told her she could have treatment which could prolong her life by a few months and maybe even years. He said she hung her head, thought for a moment and said to him. "Give the treatment to someone younger who has a better chance than me, I have lived a good life and want to be at peace with my people and die like my Creator has called. Help another and that will be my gift to them."
What a Lady she was as I escorted her back to her people. She was sad yes but filled with joy that home would be her last place to be. I spent a few days there in Old Crow and the celebrations were amazing at her return. I received word a few weeks later that Iskwiw had passed away quietly in her sleep. Her daughter shared with me at the funeral "Rolly it was as if she had willed herself to go."
I attended the funeral and was asked if I could speak of Iskwiw and the events of her time in the South. It was a complete honour for me to be asked in this usually closed community. After the service a celebration was held in her memory and there were many tears and much laughter as stories were shared. A great dance and feast were held and again it was their way of honouring their Creator, the land and Iskwiw for her part in teaching so many her ways.
Our Last Meeting
I have written about Iskwiw in one of my books called "Alone" a brief look at this life that changed many around her. She was a great and gracious teacher of the true meaning of love. Her wisdom lives on in her people and those whom she touched in her time with us. I could never give justice to this Lady but I share with you our last moments we had together. I do hope you feel her words and may they touch you as well.
We stood for many minutes, knowing it was the last time we would see each other. Iskwiw prayed again in her native tongue. When she was finished she kissed me on the cheek, pointed to my chest then hers and said, “Kiskatchua.” It means “love” in the Kwanlin Dun language. She pointed to her chest then to mine and repeated, “Kiskatchua.”
She turned in a small circle, repeating “Kiskatchua,” then “Him.” She pointed to the sky and again to our chests and waved her hand in all directions. As she spoke the tears flowed from her weathered eyes. “He is here, Rolly,” she said in broken Cree, “In your heart.”
Iskwiw slowly walked to a small rise near the gravelled airstrip, turned and pointed at the sky and to me again, and again said, “Kiskatchua.” That was the last time I saw her. I was saddened as the plane started down the runway and I left a new found friend behind. Her journey would be one of a final challenge in life and I had great peace it would be met with a heart that knew the true meaning of love.
© Rolly A. Chabot All Rights Reserved and monitored.
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