I first wrote down these memories in 2008, for my children. The events recorded here mostly took place in the early 1980s.
When we were living in the red house in Delkatla, an ex-Hell’s Angel biker guy who was now a Christian was invited by Pastor Bruce Brown as a special speaker for the teens at the church. Our family hosted a dinner for him and all the church youth, with Haida food, as he had wanted to experience Haida culture. At each place setting was a glass of apple juice, in addition to traditional foods. Also on the table, for those so inclined, was a glass of grease (aka eulachon oil or candlefish oil) to pour over their mashed potatoes or fish or whatever. As it happened, this glass of grease looked somewhat like a glass of apple juice and just happened to be in front of the chair that the biker guy chose to sit in.Now he was a really big guy, probably at least 6 foot 7. The biker guy decided to have a drink of his apple juice. He picked up the glass in front of him, and swallowed the whole thing in one gulp! Unfortunately, he grabbed the wrong glass. As the grease, with its very distinctive fishy flavor, slid down his throat, his face turned bright red, and suddenly he leaped up out of his chair – and powered by the force of the leap – hit his head on the ceiling. He was choking and spluttering, while everyone else was howling with laughter! Well, he had wanted to experience Haida culture – and he did!
One day Naanii Leila was making traditional medicine, and she needed some lily root bulbs from the bog. So she sent her granddaughter and myself to get some. We drove up to the bog on Garbage Dump Hill, which also happened to be a favorite spot for picking bog cranberries. We carefully walked out onto the bog, avoiding damp spots that were hiding water beneath, until we came to a particularly damp spot where there were numerous deep puddles with water lilies floating on them. Naanii Leila’s granddaughter, who had been trained by her grandmother in the ways of gathering traditional medicine ingredients, took off her rubber boots (a very necessary fashion staple on the bogs, and on the islands generally!) and, sitting on the edge of the puddle, let herself gently down into the puddle – which, as it turned out, came up to her waist! Then, using her toes, she felt around the bottom of this mini-pond until she located the lily bulbs in the mud. She used her feet to coax them out of the mud, and then wrapped her toes around the stem that attached them to the lily pads, and lifted them up and handed them to me. When we had a good supply, she crawled out of the pool, put her rubber boots back on, and we headed back to the car to take the bulbs to Naanii Leila.
Speaking of traditional medicines and grease, our baby was having a terrible time with diaper rash at one point, and I had tried all the over-the-counter products available at Delma’s Co-Op, without success. Then I went to the doctor, and he prescribed two or three different creams over the next couple weeks, none of which worked. I was telling Naanii Leila about this, and she started laughing. She told me not to be silly, and to stop wasting my time on white man medicines. She got out a little jar, poured some grease into it, and told me to spread it on my baby’s very sore bottom at bedtime. She assured me it would work overnight! I was doubtful about that because nothing else had worked, but being desperate, I took her advice. The next morning, I took off my baby’s diapers–and her bottom was totally healed. Needless to say, grease was our diaper rash medicine for all our babies after that.
Some years later, when our youngest child was born, we were living at Mission, BC, and our baby happened to develop a bad diaper rash right when we had a check-up appointment with the public health nurse. The nurse was very concerned, but I told her not to worry; I was just going to use some grease and he’d be fine. She was very skeptical, especially as I told her he’d be all healed up the next day. I went home, put the grease on his little behind, and sure enough he was fine next morning. I took him right up to the public health nurse’s office and showed her. She was astonished, and asked how she could get such amazing medicine. I suggested she might be able to purchase some at the Native Friendship Center. A couple months later we went in to her office for another check-up, and she excitedly told me she had bought a couple quarts of grease, and had divided them up into little bottles. She’d been handing them out for all the “tough cases” of diaper rash, with great results!