Fiction

Tax Niʔ Pik̓ak (A Long Time Ago)

Ka titi had been alive longer than most of the people on the reserve. She remembered when David Thompson arrived in Ktunaxa ʔamak̓is

BY

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki


Tax niʔ pik̓ak—a long time ago, Ka titi was in her kitchen when Uncle Pat came in and said:

“Did you see what the suyupi did now? They built a statue to David Thompson. They say he is a great man. Many people gathered at the hilltop and there were speeches and ka·pi. I like ka·pi, so I went there and that’s what they said.”

Uncle Pat was known for a few things, his old beat-up red-and-black Ford truck and his love of ka·pi.

“If you keep drinking that it will make you think like a crazy suyupi,” said Ka titi.

It was true, Uncle Pat had become more and more like the suyupi with every cup of ka·pi. He used to dream with Kⱡawⱡa and Kupi, but ever since he enjoyed too much ka·pi they dreamt on their own.

“Ka·pi is for ceremony and blessings,” said Ka titi.

“Every day is a blessing,” Uncle Pat said as he rummaged in the ka·pi can for a hint of brew.

Ka titi stood at the kitchen window looking out toward the bones of Yawuʔnik̓.

“I tell you something that you don’t know,” said Ka titi.

“Oh what’s that,” said Uncle Pat.

“Ever since the white man showed up on teevee, a lot of us Indians don’t believe in miracles. Unless Alex Trebek shakes your hand or Pat Paycheck gives you a spin, there is no magic to be had.”

“Uh-huh.”

“David Thompson was hungry, lost, and afraid when he came to Ktunaxa ʔamak̓is and that’s how he should be remembered. Instead, we get this story that celebrates him as some great explorer, and that is wrong. He didn’t know where he was going.”

“Oh ya,” said Uncle Pat, listening in the way that men do and do not.

“Well that’s not what they say in town,” he continued.

“Uh-huh,” said Ka titi.

“And that’s not what’s in the newspaper.”

“Uh-huh,” said Ka titi.

“They said they are going to name the new school for him too. Maybe even change the name of the Overwaitea to the David Thompson Memorial Overwaitea.”

“ⱡa taʔqna,” said Ka titi.

“That’s what they are saying,” said Uncle Pat.

Ka titi had been alive longer than most of the people on the reserve. She remembered when David Thompson arrived in Ktunaxa ʔamak̓is and she wasn’t impressed then and she wasn’t impressed now.

Uncle Pat had managed to scrounge enough ka·pi grounds to fix together a half a cup. He put the kettle on the stove and waited for it to boil.

Ka titi waited for the kettle. As she waited, her thoughts took her away. Sometimes her thoughts brought her to places where she had been long before and places that she hadn’t been to at all but still could remember. Her thoughts were somewhere between the first glacier winter and the first Hockey Night in Canada.

The whistling kettle brought her back to the present as Uncle Pat poured the boiling water into the cup he had placed on the counter.

Uncle Pat headed to the outhouse to do his business expecting to enjoy that lovely, hot cup of ka·pi when he returned.

He must have been in the outhouse a long time as it was getting dark when he got out. On the way back, he thought he heard Kupi call his name. This scared Uncle Pat, so he ran into the house.

Ka titi was sitting at the kitchen table with his cup of ka·pi in her old hands and a small pile of smokes next to a well-used cigarette lighter.

“Kupi called my name,” said Uncle Pat, scared and filled with the heebie-jeebies.

“Sure she did, you are not the only one to use the outhouse.”

“I’m not?”

“Waha. Think of all the ancestors who are in these woods, where do you think they go?”

That had not occurred to Uncle Pat. In that contemplation, Ka titi put a smoke to her mouth, lit the tobacco, and took a long drag.

Uncle Pat had not seen Ka titi smoke before, and that along with the call of Kupi really put him in a state.

Ka titi handed a smoke to Uncle Pat and told him to take a drag and give it to the moon. Only then could he smoke it for himself. Uncle Pat heeded her direction and went outside giving his smoke to kȼiⱡmitiⱡnuqka.

It was good to give the smoke to kȼiⱡmitiⱡnuqka as it was just coming up behind papa ʔa·kwukⱡiʔit. The buzz from the ka·pi had left Uncle Pat, and his eyes were clearing up.

“It sure is beautiful,” said Uncle Pat.

“It sure is beautiful,” answered Kupi.

Uncle Pat did not see Kupi near him when he smoked. He was so surprised he nearly dropped his smoke. He offered it to Kupi, but Kupi laughed like an old bird and flew off toward Bonners.

“Crazy bird,” said Uncle Pat.

He took another smoke and gave it to papa ʔa·kwukⱡiʔit and headed back inside.

Ka titi was still sitting at the kitchen table when Uncle Pat came in. She took the cigarette roller, looked at it, and put it back into its buckskin case.

“Kupi didn’t like to smoke,” said Uncle Pat.

Ka titi looked at Uncle Pat: “ⱡa taʔqna.”

“I know, Ka titi.”

“Let me tell you about David Thompson,” said Ka titi. “He wasn’t just lost, he was a copycat.”

Uncle Pat listened to Ka titi, eyeing the ka·pi swirling around the cup in Ka titi’s hand.

“David Thompson heard the story of your Uncle Skin and was trying to do the same thing,” said Ka titi.

“What are you talking about,” asked Uncle Pat.

“Your Uncle Skin,” said Ka titi. “What, you think you are the only uncle around here?”

“Well…”

“There have been many uncles before you and many more are still to come.”

“Oh well.”

“And David Thompson heard of your uncle’s tale and tried to do the same thing.”

“What story is that, Ka titi,” asked Uncle Pat.

“Your Uncle Skin has been missing for a long time.”

“Yes, Ka titi.”

“He wasn’t always missing, you know. He used to go missing, but he would always come back, usually around jump dance and the rodeos.”

Uncle Pat just listened to Ka titi speak. He never knew his Uncle Skin, and any time folks talked about him, Uncle Pat would get quiet and listen.

“Your Uncle Skin was crazy, not like the suyupi with their cars and their ka·pi. He was crazy like numa in ⱡumayitnamu. He knew things that were happening far away and he knew things before they happened. He was a clever man, but that made others in the tribe wary of him. He was often seen walking with Kupi on nights like this.

“One day the tribe had been without a good meal in a long time. Hunting season was over and there was little game to eat. So Skin started walking. At first it seemed like he was walking in a trance. But he soon found his way over the mountains to the east, towards the kuȼkiyawiy. Everyone thought he wouldn’t come back, as most of our men who went that way got tangled up in rodeos and love triangles.

“That’s not what happened to Uncle Skin. He walked from here at ʔaq̓am, through the mountains to the plains, all the way to a place called Lethbridge. When he got there, the suyupis were opening a brand new Overwaitea. They were just about to eat when he walked in the store and asked for food. As these suyupi had never seen a Ktunaxa before they were naturally impressed as we Ktunaxa are known for our well-developed bodies and easygoing attitude towards sex.”

“I’ll say,” said Uncle Pat.

“Anyhow, Skin made his way to the deli and asked for a beet salad and some chicken. The suypui didn’t know what to do so they gave it to him. He put it into a buckskin bag and headed west.

“The suyupi were so impressed by his feat of courage that they began to tell stories about him. They built a statue in his honour and this is what David Thompson learned of in his London condo.”

“Uh-huh.”

“When Skin came back to the tribe, everyone was hungry and some of us were really irritable. Just the sight of him was enough to upset the tribe as there was just enough food for everyone until spring.

“Nasuʔkin saw Skin and said ‘waha, Skin! We don’t want you here. You have been gone too long and we hardly recognize you. Ka titi thought you were kuȼkiyawiy and wanted to shoot you.’”

“You did?” asked Uncle Pat.

“It is true,” said Ka titi. “I was younger then and prone to bad judgement.

“Skin raised his hand and began to speak. ‘It is true, Nasuʔkin. I have been gone for too long. You don’t recognize me and I hardly recognize you too. I had to listen to Kupi to tell me who is who.’

“The tribe was surprised at this and some rumbling began.

“‘But behold,’ said Skin. He rummaged into his buckskin bag and pulled out the deli chicken and the beet salad.

“‘I have gone a long distance and have come back with food for the tribe. The suyupis over the mountain have built a new Overwaitea and they gifted this to us.’

“Nasuʔkin took a look at the food and the eyes of the ʔaqⱡsmaknik̓ and said, ‘Sometimes Kupi knows what is best for the tribe. You have done well, Skin. We have enough food to keep us through winter.’

“The tribe had a big feast that night and everyone was tired with red-mouthed snores. Skin knew that the tribe would not trust him any longer, so he left his clothes folded on the bridge to town and flew off into the night.

“Years later, David Thompson arrived and started the mess we are in today.”

“Hola! That is some story, Ka titi,” said Uncle Pat. “Is it true?”

“Listen for the coming of Kupi and they will tell you what is true. They are better than newspapers and teevee. But don’t talk to them or you will fly off like your Uncle Skin.

“And that is why we Ktunaxa don’t speak to Kupi at night.”

Glossary

tax niʔ pik̓ak—a long time ago

Ka titi—grandmother

suyupi—white people

ka·pi—coffee

Kupi—owl

Ktunaxa ʔamak̓is—Ktunaxa lands

Troy Sebastian / Nupqu ʔa·kǂ am̓ is a Ktunaxa writer living in Lekwungen territory. His writing has appeared in The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, and Quill & Quire.

Lauren Tamaki (@laurentamaki) has drawn for the New York Times, GQ, and Toronto Life.




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