Saturday, September 06, 2014

Bad Fog

Years ago, Martin Louie took my father as a son. As a result, we usually called him Grandpa Martin, but sometimes we affectionately called him “The Old Man across the River.” Martin was an elder and spiritual leader who lived at Inchelium, near the western shore of the Columbia River. He was a colorful character, often remembered for his wisdom and humor.

From time to time, Grandpa Martin shared the most profound sayings. Recently, I found a partial transcript of his stories. The following paragraph contains an excerpt. He said:

inxaʔcin, isx̌ax̌paʔ, inqaqnaʔ, istəmtima, ink'ík'waʔ, kʷu c'q'misəlx, kʷu nc'q'mnitkʷsəlx iʔ k̓əl saʔtitkʷ, məł kʷu cusəlx, ‘lut aksk'əłʔitxm i təmxʷulaʔxʷ. k'əłʔitxməntxʷ iʔ tmxʷulaʔxʷ, məł yaʕyaʕt way' suxʷxʷ iʔ skəkʕakaʔ iʔ kəl wist. yaʕyaʔt way nłxʷtl'ilx, mi kʷ xʷt'i…lx, məł iʔ skəkʔakaʔ wikənts t'i kʷ xʷʔu…l ixiʔ t astk'síc'aʔ.’

In English:

My ancestors, my paternal grandfather and grandmother, my maternal grandfather and grandmother, they threw me out of bed, they threw me into the river, and they said to me, ‘Don’t sleep while the world goes by. If you sleep while the world goes by, all the birds will leave and go to the mountains. They will be gone into the bushes before you wake up, and the birds will see you as a bad fog surrounding your body.’

This was a story I had never heard before. In particular, the words ‘bad fog’ caught my eye as an enigmatic or mysterious phrase. I wondered about the meaning, so I decided to ask sʕamtic'aʔ – one of our fluent speakers of the Okanagan language.  

She said, “xʷʔul is like steam that might come up from a boiling pot, but it’s also like what people say nowadays when they talk about an aura – it’s your energy.” In that exact moment, a two-year old boy bounded into the room and pounded a drum with a stick. sʕamtic'aʔ pointed to him and said, “x̌ast i sxʷʔuls. His power is good.”



The Salish text from: i‿ƛ'ax̌əx̌ƛ'x̌aptət i‿scm'iʔm'ay's.

The photograph from: The Grand Coulee: Savior For Whites, Disaster For Indians by Blaine Harden ( 

The Salish text in this post is not 100% correct. The blog font prevents an accurate writing of the font. For a correct version, click here

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