Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Yaya’s Trunk: Stories from past

“The Albert Tellier Trunk”

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.

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 understands 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

Richard Matt, of Elk Grove, California, writes this week’s story “The Albert Tellier Trunk”.

“It was one of those sunny Saturday mornings in 1950, when my maternal grandfather, Albert Tellier, pulled out his ancient trunk from the back of his bed where he stored it away from prying eyes. He didn’t have to go to work on the weekends. He reached into pocket pulling out a chain of keys. He opened the lock on the trunk, and lifted the top so he could peer at the contents.

I was five years old. And I was an excited little boy watching my grandfather’s ritual of opening his trunk. My mother, Violet Tellier, brought in a cup of black coffee to her father, Albert. She sat on the chair closest to the trunk drinking her coffee with milk and sugar. She let me take a sip out of her coffee cup. It was milky, and sweet, and delicious.

My oldest brother, named Albert, came in the room rubbing sleep from his eyes. He was twelve years old. He asked my mother for some shredded wheat, which was his favorite breakfast cereal.

My grampa began pulling pictures out of the trunk. There were old, old photos with his hand written inscriptions on the back naming the people on the front. The people in the pictures had names including the Telliers, the McDonalds, the Curleys, the Deshaws, the Big Sams, the Pierres, The Broncheaus, the Eneases, the Pauls, and a post card of an Indian cowboy named Jackson Sundown.

There were so many names that five-year-old kid, me, couldn’t wrap his mind around all of them. Yet, in witnessing my grandfather opening the trunk to look at his photos, I was introduced to these people who lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana in the teen years of the twentieth century way before I was born. I felt like I knew the people in the photos looking out at me from some forty years ago. I was excited because they were my people. In seeing these photos, I got to look back in time. I went home. My grandfather and mother were always discussing family, friends, and the Flathead Rez, our home. Our Salish Indian heritage always got top billing all the time.

My grandfather was a photographer. And, as a young man in his late teens, and in his early twenties, and from his perch at the old Tellier home near the Mission Creek he documented with his camera his family of origin as well as visitors to the place in St. Ignatius. In the two decades beginning in the 1910’s and 1920’s, Albert Tellier shot a multitude of pictures on the property outside the Tellier home site.

There were pictures of a Nez Perce Indian relatives who came up from the Down Below in Idaho to visit my great- grandmother and my great-grandfather, Cecille and Issac Tellier. Who is Peo-Peo-Mox-Mox, I wonder.

I see a Matt in one of the images. My father is Joseph Henry Matt born in Evaro, Montana in 1916. Is the Matt in the pictures one of my ancestors?

My mother as a child is posed in many of the pictures providing that she was one of her father’s favorite subjects. Mom looks at a picture of herself taken in 1920 when she was four years old. She tells her father she remembers when she and the two Curly girls would go out to this big rock near the Mission Creek and climb to the top where they would sing songs so loud they thought everyone in the valley could hear their voices.

Grampa pulls some paper documents out of his trunk. He explains that the pieces of paperwork are federal government allotment declarations signed by the president of the United States. My brother, Albert, asks if he means Harry Truman. No, no, grandfather answers, stating the president responsible for this paperwork came long, long before Truman.

My grandfather takes beaded buckskin gloves from the trunk noting his mother, Cecille Tellier, was responsible for the handwork. There is a diary in the trunk with pages of observation in my grandfather’s handwriting. There are various artifacts, and family knickknacks in that treasured trunk space.

My grandfather and mother trade memories of his younger brother, Mose Tellier, whom my father says died mysteriously near the railroad tracks on the way to Spokane. Or was it Missoula? I can’t remember now.

The opening of my grandfather’s trunk was always such a rich experience for this little boy. Seeing the pictures connected me to my Salish Indian ancestry. It was a here now experience for me to witness the culture, my relatives, and the landscapes photos. In my mind’s eye I could reach out and touch my people and say with pride, I am one of them.

Memories connect me to my Flathead Indian Nation roots, and Albert Telliers photos reinforce and strengthen the family biography. For that I am so grateful.

Of course, identity, language, spirituality, and tradition mean much more than description of the Tellier photos impact on me. The Salish Indian culture is unconquerable. We have been in this forever.

My Grandfather died in 1973. My mother passed away in 1993. Big brother, Albert Cecil Adams went over to the other side in 2002.

In keeping with my mother’s wishes, I donated what was left of the Tellier trunk to the Salish Pend D’ Oreille Culture Committee in 2002. The now donated tribal treasure is there in the Longhouse in St. Ignatius. It was there in St. Ignatius that my grandfather, my mother and my brother were born. So it is only fitting that the Tellier Collection should be housed at that sacred location.

And, the collection should be opened up for viewing for all tribal people to see. Then, they too, can marvel at the photographic splendor of Albert Tellier, who captured his family in an earlier day and time that’s available to all of us now, 2014 on the Flathead Reservation.

The children of our tribe need to revel in the culture and the traditions of their Flathead forefathers and mothers, so they can celebrate the spirit of their people today, and down through the ages. They deserve nothing less.”

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