Morley elder to be paraded proudly around Paradise

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 24, 2007

Morley elder Lily Wesley, who passed away Oct. 21, was renowned for her traditional Nakoda First Nation skills. Here she is pictured in the 1970s demonstrating how to slice moose meat in preparation for drying. Photo by Warren Harbeck

A highly respected elder among the Stoney Nakoda community at Morley passed away in Canmore Hospital on Oct. 21 after a lengthy illness. Lily Wesley was 86.

Lily descended from the famous Chief Bearspaw, who signed Treaty 7 with the Queen’s representatives in 1877 to facilitate the settlement of southern Alberta. She spent much of her life helping recent generations of newcomers understand the richness and wisdom of First Nations heritage in these parts.

My wife and I were two she mentored in Stoney language and culture when we first arrived in these parts 42 years ago. Her warmth and patience made us feel right at home in the wonderful world of the Rocky Mountain Nakoda Sioux.

In the mid-1970s, her expertise in the traditional ways of tanning hides and preparation of dried meat combined with her natural abilities as a teacher to win for her a leadership position with the then internationally-acclaimed Stoney Wilderness Centre, along with her husband Lazarus Wesley.

She also served on provincial and national committees for the improvement of relations between First Nations peoples and other Canadians.

Lily and Lazarus married in 1942. His knowledge and respect for the foothills land stretching from Kananaskis Country in the south to the Kootenay Plains in the north fit well with Lily’s practical life skills.

Of the highest importance to them as a couple was their commitment to Christian ministry, a calling nurtured through long hours of Bible study and prayer while sitting on picturesque hillsides, and shared in cottage and camp meetings, in Bible teaching and translation, and in comforting folks in times of loss.

Lily was the twin sister of Bert Wildman, rancher and popular square dance caller in his day. Some years ago he told me the story about their birth.

The midwives gathered round as, first, the head appeared, then the rest of the body that wintry Morley morning of March 13, 1921, Bert told me. It was a girl, and the parents, Dan and Leah Wildman, named her Lily. They placed her in a beautiful snuggly new moss bag.

Then something totally unexpected happened. “There's another one coming!” someone said. And sure enough, there were twins. This one was a boy, and they named him Bert.

The parents had really been hoping for a boy all along. So happy was everyone at the birth of a boy that they took the moss bag away from Lily and gave it to Bert, instead, and paraded him around the room in it. Lily, as the story is told and retold with much mirth, wound up wrapped in a sheepskin coat and relegated to a corner.

Well, Lily is first again – this time first into heaven. But I doubt that she is wrapped simply in a sheepskin and relegated to a corner. I think she is being paraded proudly around Paradise while a happy voice announces:

“This is Lily. While at home on earth she taught many the joy of being truly at one with each other and with all the creation. Welcome now to your new home, Lily!”

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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