Little Drum

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Serenity and powerful reminders amongst the chaos of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE)

A few days ago, I was with my family at the PNE (Provincial National Exhibition) in Vancouver, BC.  Well, it was us and thousands of people enjoying this fun and exhilarating Fair. I am not really much of rides person, it is not so much the heights or the thrills that scare me, but rather the human element…who put this ride together, how tired were they, were they paying attention, what had they smoked or drank and did they put the right screw in the right place? So as a result of not known the answers to these questions and the inability to convince my family not to ride, I was sitting on the bench while my family rode the oldest wooden roller coaster in North America.  I was inundated with the stimulation of all my senses. All around me thrill seekers were screaming on the rides with the drop of the Hellevator creating the loudest screams. The scents of french fries, mini donuts, fried onions, and pretty much anything  unhealthy could be smelt.  The sun was as equally blinding as some of the outfits people were wearing and in amongst all this joyous chaos a Dragon Fly circled me and landed beside me on the bench. All of a sudden, quiet and peace surrounded me, I was reminded of my Grandma and her teachings of the Dragon Fly.

Below is the chapter from Hope, Faith & Empathy that shares Grandma Tilly’s teachings of the Dragon Fly and so much more.

Hope you enjoy it and if you want to read more, you can order your copy at

With respect,


Chapter 4

Gatekeepers to the Dream World

“Tomorrow, after we done fish’n, we gonna go home. We got ‘nough for the winter ‘n’ it’s not our way to be greedy. Just take what we need ‘n’ what we gonna share: noth’n more ‘n’ noth’n less.” She pointed at me with her fire stoker. “You ‘member that Tilly. This whole world gett’n so greedy, but not you, you only gonna take what you need ‘n’ what you gonna share.”


One day when I was ten, Grandma Tilly showed up unexpectedly for dinner, driving all the way from her farm just outside of Regina to our house in Kamloops. She told my parents that night that she had come to take me fishing. “It’s time to teach ‘lil Tilly how to prepare for the winter. Best time for fishing all summer is this new moon, so we’re gonna pack up ‘n spend ‘while up at the lake.”

Every morning since, we’d been getting up very early and fishing until Grandma Tilly felt we had caught our share for the day. Then we’d head back to our camp, get the fire going and prepare the fish to be smoked. Grandma Tilly had her special recipe for the brine, including wild onions that she harvested every fall and preserved specially for her brine. As a result, the fish would only sit in the brine for a couple of hours before we hung them over the fire to be smoked for the day. The fish would be a treat throughout the winter, and as Grandma Tilly got older and couldn’t hunt anymore, she would often trade her fish for deer or moose meat.

Part of preparing the fish to go in the brine included cutting their heads off. I would scrape and gut them and she would cut their heads off and put them in the containers for freezing. “Oh your Daddy and Auntie Pauline, they gonna be so happy with all the heads we got. Gonna be able to make us up some of my famous fish head soup,” Grandma Tilly said to me, smiling. I gave her a bit of a smile, but as I remembered the smell of that soup I thought, “I’m going to make sure I am out of the house when that’s cooking.”

I was grateful she had brought the modern convenience of a cooler and ice for freezing, otherwise I’d have to resort to eating fish head soup with her. Apparently there is a lot to be enjoyed from digging the meat out of a fish’s head and even more so from extracting and sucking on an eyeball, but I was fine going through life without that experience.

We were sitting around the fire when she announced: “Tomorrow, after we done fish’n, we gonna go home. We got ‘nough for the winter ‘n’ it’s not our way to be greedy. Just take what we need ‘n’ what we gonna share: noth’n more ‘n’ noth’n less.” She pointed at me with her fire stoker. “You ‘member that Tilly. This whole world gett’n so greedy, but not you. You only gonna take what you need ‘n’ what you gonna share. You hear me?”

I nodded yes, knowing there was absolutely no other response to give her. It wasn’t very often she spoke to me in this forceful way, but when she did I knew I better sit still and listen!


The next morning we got up early. The sun was just beginning to come up over the blue-grey mountains creating stunning reflections on the lake, the loons had begun to sing and frogs were croaking. With it being summer vacation, I would normally still be tucked into my bed for a few hours yet. But having this chance to spend time with Grandma Tilly was totally worth getting up before the sun. She had just put her line back in the lake after reeling in her seventh fish. I was still waiting for my first one—not my first fish, my first bite!

I started to whine, as ten-year-olds do when they feel they are being wrongly done by. “Why are you catching all the…” I didn’t get to finish my question before she raised her hand, silencing me. I looked over the side of the boat, I should have known better than to complain to Grandma Tilly.

“Did you ‘member to do everythin’ I been teach’n you?” she asked me. As she did so, she raised her eyebrows at me and pursed her lips. I realized just how unimpressed she was with me.

I knew better than to answer her without seriously thinking about her question, so I turned around on the small bench and faced the front of the boat. I watched as the bow broke through the water, leaving gentle ripples in its wake. We had been going fishing every morning for the last week, and I replayed in my mind the fishing preparations. Then I thought about this morning, trying to remember what I forgot—I woke up, got dressed, rinsed my mouth, washed my face, packed up our gear, got in the boat. I reran the morning over and over again but couldn’t figure out what I had forgotten. I stared at my rod, wishing so badly it would bend towards the water.

I heard Grandma Tilly rub her wooden match on the side of the boat. Without turning around I knew she was lighting her pipe. The light breeze brought the smell of her homegrown tobacco wafting towards me.

“That’s it, that’s it, Grandma Tilly!” I turned quickly to face her and as a result, rocked the boat.

“What’s it?” She puffed on her pipe. When she exhaled she used her hand to bring the smoke up over her head, like she was smudging.

I humbly told her. “I forgot to make my tobacco offering before we got in the boat.” I was quiet for a moment, mad at myself for forgetting something so important. “That’s why I’m not getting any bites or catching any fish.”

“Yes, my girl. You forgot to make your offering. You figured that one out quick, Tilly…you must be my granddaughter.” She laughed and then continued with a more serious tone. “No offering, no fish. Simple law o’ nature. ‘Member we make the offering as a form of gratitude. Need to be grateful before we ask an animal to give up its life so we can eat.”

I didn’t wait for her to tell me what I needed to do. I began reeling my line in. I felt embarrassed, like I had let Grandma Tilly down.

“Sorry Grandma…” Before I could finish she shook her head quickly.

“No need for apologiz’n, Tilly. This is a good less’n for you ‘n’ I have a hunch you’ll ‘memember to make your tobacco offerin’s from now on. I think we got what we need for the winter. Let’s head back to camp ‘n’ get these fish smoked so we can head home.” She smacked her lips together a couple times. “Gotta crav’n for that fish head soup.”

As we pulled into the dock and I got ready to tie up the boat, a dragonfly circled around my head. I knew better than to swat at it.

“Oh my, Tilly. You gonna have to pay real good ‘ttention to your dreams tonight. That dragonfly’s come to remind you of that—we call ‘em gatekeepers to the dream world.”

I sat on the dock, put my feet in the boat and waited patiently for the dragonfly to leave. Grandma Tilly’s head moved as she followed the quick movements of the dragonfly and asked me: “You ‘member what I told you ‘bout dreams?”

“Sure I do,” I said proudly. “The dreams I have when I first fall asleep are about my past, and they’ll help me learn from my past so I don’t make the same mistakes. The ones in middle of my sleep help me solve whatever problems I have right now, and the dreams I have just before I wake up, those dreams are about the future and they help me get ready for my future.” As she smiled at me, I felt relieved that I hadn’t let her down again

“You been using those two ears real well, Tilly. I’m gonna be curious tomorrow to hear ‘bout the dreams you have tonight.”

We sat there quietly watching the dragonfly until it finally flew away. Grandma Tilly motioned towards the rope with her head. “Tie us up now so we can get to smok’n these fish and get on back home.”


Tears are Medicine

This is a segment from a chapter in my soon to be released book, Hope, Faith & Empathy.  It is from the chapter called Tears are Medicine.

Tilly, the main character, is just finishing a counselling session with Bea who is also a wise elder and guides Tilly in far more than her recovery from alcoholism.  This sharing from Bea happens just as a session is coming to end.  Enjoy!  And if you want to read more, please go on line to purchase the book Mail out in July 2012.


“You need to give everyone you spend time with a present, everyone.” She had instructed me.

“Everyone? A present? How is that possible Bea?” I asked, confused.

“Yep.” She shook her head up and down dramatically. “Everyone Tilly. I want you to be fully present with each person you spend time with. Give ‘em your full attention, look ‘em in the eyes and let ‘em know you are listen’n. People just need to be seen ‘n’ heard Tilly. ‘N you know what?” I moved my head sideways and she said in response. “It takes li’l effort for us to really see some’n or to list’n to’em. You know what it’s like to be listened to and then what it also feels like when some’un prettend’n they listen’n. So your homework is to see ‘n listen to each person.”

“What about like when the Cashier at the Grocery store starts chatt’n me up?” I asked.

“Everyone Tilly, you never know who has a story or teach’n for you or whose day you could bright’n or light’n. So yes, even the Cashier at the Grocery store.”

©Monique Gray Smith

Why Hope, Faith & Empathy?

On June 11th, 2008 the Prime Minister of Canada offered a public apology for the atrocities that occurred in Indian Residential Schools.  It followed on the heels of the Australian Prime Minister’s Apology for Forgotten Australians on November 16, 2009.  Both of these apologies and public acknowledgments opened a door for the world to better understand our history as Indigenous people, its continued ripple effect and our desire to create a new legacy for our children and future generations. These apologies have also served to foster a greater sense of empathy towards Indigenous peoples and supported the breakdown of cultural divides and misunderstandings.

The soon to be released Hope, Faith & Empathy is a timely book that bridges the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and appeals to readers from all walks of life.  Hope, Faith & Empathy is a moving and inspiring story of a mixed heritage Indigenous woman (Cree, Lakota and Scottish) and the people she meets along her healing journey from teenage alcoholism to successful business woman, International speaker and mother of twins.

The tradition of teaching and healing through storytelling comes alive in this modern-day story that is rich with Indigenous wisdom, humour and thought-provoking teachings.  It provides insight into the Indigenous worldview and unique ways of being, knowing, seeing and learning in the world.  Through the resiliency of the characters and embedded within the stories they tell, are metaphors for life that are relevant to all who are interested in creating a more caring, civil and empathic society. It draws readers into a first-hand experience of Indigenous peoples and their inspiring spirit and tenacity to overcome the wounds of Residential School abuse, colonization, historical oppression and forced assimilation. Hope, Faith & Empathy gently provokes readers to look at their beliefs and move beyond any negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and communities they may have.

Why the words Hope, Faith & Empathy as the title of the book?  Hope that children of this generation and future generations do not have a childhood they have to recover from.  Faith that we will learn from our history and work together in creating a future that recognizes the gifts of all children, families, nations and races.  Empathy that we will be able to foster and witness greater empathy between the relations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.  It begins with each of us.  Empathy is the bridge connecting hope and faith.

Hope, Faith & Empathy is an entertaining, engaging and inspiring story to read and learn from.  It can also be used as a formal educational tool to raise levels of cultural competency, cultural safety and understanding of Indigenous peoples.

Please visit to read excerpts from Hope, Faith & Empathy and to purchase your copies.  Purchases can also be made by emailing


About the Author: Monique Gray Smith is an Indigenous woman, a Mother, Writer, International Speaker and Consultant focusing on the Strength and Resiliency of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide.


©Little Drum Consulting     


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