Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Yaya’s Trunk: Stories from the past

By Lailani Upham

PABLO — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Service’s Circle of Trust Program is launching a new column called “Yaya’s Trunk” in the Char-Koosta News that will be featured every week for the Positive Indian Parenting curriculum.

The column will be a collection of stories from community members to carry on the teachings and stories of the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille. The stories reinforce the value of traditional beliefs and practices in daily lives of the families that are served, according to Mary Jane Charlo, Circle of Trust Youth Activities Coordinator.

So far, two stories have been submitted by the staff; CSKT Positive Parenting staff hope it will be the last — for a period of time.

CSKT Positive Parenting would like to urge community elders and parents to share their stories from years back, or any experience to help build a connection to the now and the past.

The personal short stories will be included in the curriculum of the program in the context of teaching mindfulness and to strengthen youth connection to tribal culture by naturally introducing practices and stories of native tradition, Charlo says.

“Your stories don’t have to be remarkable or heart stopping, just something taught you or learned something from it, and how to be a good person.”

Charlo says the staff is ready to help anyone write their story if they choose to simply tell it. She said the staff understand there are some folks that don’t feel comfortable writing. It is more important that the stories are carried down to the next generation she says.

Old photos would be appreciated with stories submitted.

To contribute stories, please call Mary Jane Charlo at (406) 675-2700, ext. 1333; or email at

This week’s story written by staff Mary Jane Charlo, is called, “Being Respectful of Creator’s Gifts.”

My mother, Mary taught me many things about family, and respect. Our house was always peaceful, and clean. Meals were prepared, there were no microwaves, the only frozen food we had was meat. It seemed like our big freezer on the porch was always filled with meat.

Everyone did their best to make sure things were done well and on time. My father worked for the railroad, he always came home at five and dinner was always ready.

I didn’t realize it as a child, as I do now, that parents both worked very hard to make a home. Our home was very small but not too small. There were seven of us living there in the two-bedroom house in Evaro. Children spent a lot of time outside.

In such a small space, if we did not respect each other’s space, life would’ve been chaotic. I slept on the top bunk with a sister, another older sister slept on the bottom. We shared the room with Mom and Dad. My father had bundle hanging above the headboard. I was taught to never touch it and to not concern myself with it. It was not any of my business, I didn’t, it belonged to my father and he was the only one who touched it.

My father would be the first one to get up. I don’t remember my father ever sleeping in. He would make a fire, start coffee, make breakfast, feed the cows and horses then go to work.

The sounds of coffee percolating, and the fire crackling in the woodstove are fresh in my mind today, just as the smell of wood smoke and bacon on the stove.

I had the job of feeding the chickens. During the winter, the snow would be almost to my hips, I would have to shovel my way to the chicken house, so I could get in. I would put down feed, and put warm water in the pan, so their crops wouldn’t freeze. Winters were colder back then.

One time during the summer, I saw that one of the chickens was just sitting in one spot. My nephew, Jimmy, and I, moved his head this way and that way. We laid it on one side then the other, it didn’t move. So Jimmy said, “Let’s tell Gramma, (my Mom) that there’s something wrong with this chicken.

Mom put her beading down and followed us outside to look at the chicken. “This chicken is really sick”, she said, “We need to get rid of her so the rest don’t get what she has.”

She told Jimmy to cut his head off. He tried, he lay the chicken on the chopping block, stretched it’s neck out a bit, and it just stayed there. But, he couldn’t do it. He said, “You do it”. I responded with, “Mom told you to it”, because I really didn’t want to kill the chicken. Seeing that he couldn’t do it, I said,” ok, give me the axe”. So I told him to hold the chicken, I didn’t want to only partially knock it’s head off. He was holding the bird when my Mom came out. “James!” she called him, “Are you crazy? Get away from there!” I unknowingly shut my eyes, I didn’t want to see what I did to the poor chicken. I had seen chickens get their heads cut off. So Mom cut its head off. She got an old pillowcase, put the chicken in it, tied it up with baling twine, gave it to me and told me to take it up on the hill and hang up in a tree so nothing would bother it.

So I took the sack with the chicken in it and crossed the road and climbed the hill, almost to the top. I climbed a big tree and tied the sack there and left it.

Later in my life, I came across a flicker, the woodpecker with the orange tail feathers, whole and undamaged, on skyline drive. I picked it up, plucked the feathers and discarded the carcass as I had done the chicken. I later asked Johnny about these feathers, he said I shouldn’t use them. The reason being, some feathers of this kind are in someone’s medicine bag, their “sumesh.” So I also brought those up and left them in the mountains.

Another time I came across a mourning dove acting strangely. He was under a truck at the Peoples Center. I didn’t know if he was hurt, I put him in the “tuli” tipi in the shade so he might feel better and fly away without being bothered by curious people. Continuing on my way to the store to get lunch, I saw another mourning dove next to the road, not moving, its right wing damaged. Its injuries had been too much for its small body to endure. I purchased lunch and brought to Oshanee’s house. I asked her about the feathers. She said, “Yes, mourning doves mate for life, use them, you will be lucky”. I use the tail feathers with my single golden eagle feather when I dance. I think I have been lucky overall.

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