Squirrel’s ‘wealthy’ father

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 13, 2022

Great-grampa Warren reads to Pip from Trent Fox book on Stoney alphabet. Photo: scene from video by Naomi Toms

A rumour around Morley recently is that I’ve become very “wealthy” off my 57 years of association with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. Well, the source of that rumour doesn’t realize just how true that is – except it’s not about being financially wealthy, but about being wealthy in what it means to be truly human according to Stoney Nakoda wisdom.

This went through my mind during our family Thanksgiving dinner visit from our older son Reg, his daughter Naomi, and her five-year-old son, Peregrine (“Pip”).

Pip has developed a passionate love for books, thanks to his mother’s inspiration. While waiting for dinner to be served, he came across a book of mine on the Stoney Nakoda language. It was that delightful 2019 alphabet book by Stoney Nakoda language revitalization specialist Trent Fox (drawings by Tanisha Wesley).

True to his enquiring nature, Pip climbed up on the sofa next to me and asked me to read it to him. Well, how could I resist, especially with such a family memory awaiting us just a few pages in.

When we got to the letter J, Trent had illustrated it with the Stoney Nakoda word for “squirrel”: Thija (pronounced thee-JAH). What a perfect opportunity to let Pip in on the story behind how his Grampa Reg got his Stoney name.

It was back in the winter-spring of 1966, about six months after Mary Anna and I had arrived in Morley to assist in linguistics and Bible translation. The globetrotting chief Walking Buffalo (Tatâga Mânî) had become a frequent dinner guest. On more than one occasion, he’d observed how our then-16-month-old son Reg was a very high-energy toddler. And true to his culture, the legendary chief gave him a Stoney Nakoda name: Thija. Yes, Reg was as active as a squirrel – interestingly, not at all unlike what his grandson Pip would become all these years later.

This moment with Pip led to a conversation with the rest of the family on the blessings that have been ours from our lifetime associated with the Stoney Nakoda community. True, because I’ve assisted Trent in teaching university courses in the language, some at Morley have misunderstood my motives, and have accused me of getting wealthy off my association with the community.

Wealthy? Absolutely – but not financially! From our association with Stoney Nakoda Elders, we have been blessed with some of the greatest wealth anyone could hope for: the wealth of wisdom in the Stoney Nakoda understanding of what it means to be truly human.

And at the heart of that wisdom is the importance of certain key values that guide Stoney life along what is often a dark, confusing journey -- values such as respect for the Creator, the creation and each other; compassion, endurance, perseverance, oneness with each other and living in harmony.

Yes, Pip, Grampa Squirrel’s father has indeed been blessed with the kind of wealth that truly matters. Thank you, our Stoney Nakoda mentors, for sharing with us your wisdom and language.


© 2022 Warren Harbeck

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