Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Yaya’s Trunk: Stories from past

“Hold Your Lips Like a Fish”
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 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 comes from Pat Matt, Jr., (Q’ispe’/Pend D’Oreille).

Matt says he has been reading the “Yaya’s Trunk” corner and was encouraged to share his story about his grandpa, Baptist and Tony LaMoose and Octave Finley. “All three of these guys were dear to my heart.”

Matt’s story is called, “Hold Your Lips Like a Fish.

“I was five years old about the time my godfather, Baptist D. ‘Bap’ LaMoose and his brother, Antoine ‘Tony’ became my two Grandpas. Many days and nights would pass by with me next to my grandpa Bap, listening to his stories, and with me receiving my first lessons in Salish. Baptist and Tony LaMoose were first rate Flathead Chicken Dancers. Grandpa Bap was also a professional trickster known to the powwow arena as the last Flathead Clown Dancer and Whip Man. My first memory of the powwow arena at Arlee powwow was me dancing, barely able to stick my face out of Grandpa Bap’s war bonnet. In those days of the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s, he would frighten unruly children around the dance circle with a very frightening looking latex mask of a suyapi ‘old man gone crazy.’ Other children would run and cry, but I wouldn’t because I knew the warm-hearted loving man behind the terrible mask.

It was Grandpa Tony who made me my first bow and arrows and taught me how to shoot. Baptist, his wife Marie, and Tony all lived together next to my family in Turtle Lake. It was there they taught me how to fish.

One day, I was taught how to ambush grasshoppers with a stick to be used as fishing bait. While taking a break to watch Grandpa Tony dig worms, I felt a burning on my legs. I yelled and danced around so much that I soon had Grandpa Tony’s full attention. He lifted my shirt to see what I was scratching at. While I was standing there watching my Grandpa dig earthworms, I failed to notice that I chose an Ant hill to roost on.

Another day, as we were out on a boat in the lake, I asked my Grandpa Bap how I could catch a fish. I’ll never forget what he told me. ‘To catch a fish you have to hold your lips like a fish,’ he said. Subsequently, on almost every fishing outing I’ve taken since, I’ve no doubt baffled fellow fishermen and fish alike with the hundreds of funny faces I’ve made while trying to coax fish on the end of my line over the years. It now occurs to me that of all the fish I’ve seen floating belly up on the shores and streams of the reservations watershed, probably perished while I fished, (with my fishing face), from laughing themselves to death.

My part coyote Grandpas would also take me to meet their singing buddies at the drum. Among the people they would sing with, I remember specifically Octave (Octam) Finley. There at the drum we would jam the night away with the Flathead’s Finest. I was so young, and oftentimes would “drum over” the last beat.

‘If Patilik drums over, he has to tell a joke every time,’ someone said. A chill went up my spine. You see, I wasn’t born a comedian, but after singing a few sessions with those guys, I became the funniest first grader I knew.

Last year, we lost one of those singers and one of our greatest contemporary local heroes of the Flathead Reservation, Octave Finley. When a deceased tribal member’s family wouldn’t know how up to grieve their loved one, you could always see Octave out in the seats praying and singing them on. When there would be little non-contest, no money powwow, Octave would always be there.

I had the honor of listening to Octave tell me the old, old story of how we Flatheads really got our chicken dance and the first song that came with it.

‘I’m getting ready to leave,’ Octave tells me on our last visit. He then tells me story after story, mentioning names like Pete Beaverhead, Blind Mose lChouteh and even the miraculous Resurrection Sam.

‘Here’s the last thing I will teach you’, he says with that unforgettable half-eagle, half red fox sort of look.

‘Stem I sxlaxt?’ I reply.

‘N ‘ten Pi’steh,’ I would repeat it. He approves holding his lips together, like the most expert of fishermen. ‘Someday,’ he peacefully smiles.

Never forget the simple times and special lessons spent with elders. Never be afraid to respectfully approach, for most are eager to teach. The memories made become precious, and not only keep our language and culture alive, but the moments spent with them provide a lifetime of happy memories for our heart.”

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