by Tiffany Joseph
A long time ago, there was a girl named SEMSEMÍYE (sounds like “sum-sa-my-yuh”). She was born in W̱SÁNEĆ, and she really loved the place she came from. Throughout the flowering season, she’d soak in all the beauty of the flowers in meadows and visit as many berry patches as possible. Her family taught her to offer her hair to the plants when she harvested. This represented sacrificing herself for the plants because they sacrificed their lives for us to make food, medicine, clothing, and tools.
It was important for SEMSEMÍYE to have gratitude while she harvested because any feelings she had while she worked would go into the medicines, foods, and teas. She felt the most joy and gratitude when she harvested plants for pregnant people in her family and village. She learned from women in her family what plants were good for different stages of pregnancy and for labour. And, when she became a young woman, she started to wish for a child of her own.
The challenge for SEMSEMÍYE was that she would have to move away to be with her husband if she got married. That was the tradition of her people. Whenever she thought of marriage, she thought, “I don’t want to leave this place. It has everything I need.” Every time she’d help women in their pregnancy, people would say, “When are you going to get married and have your own baby?” She loved her land and she loved all the plants in her homeland. The only thing that made her feel just as much joy was the idea of having her own baby.
One year she tended to many births and pregnant people. Her baby fever was strong. Her family got excited and started finding men for her to consider for marriage. One man didn’t have any of her favourite plants in his territory, so she refused to marry him. She couldn’t live without camas fields close by. Another man’s territory had camas, but his people ate snowberry. W̱SÁNEĆ people used snowberry as poison, so she refused to marry him. Another man’s territory had all her favourite plants. He was from a village close by. With the baby fever strong in SEMSEMÍYE and with a little push from her family, SEMSEMÍYE married this man in the middle of spring in a field of camas.
Not long after the wedding, SEMSEMÍYE noticed the signs of pregnancy. Her husband had a first wife named ḴEĆO,LE. Their husband wasn’t around a lot, so they became good friends. They’d spend their days working side by side. SEMSEMÍYE would make cattail and horsetail mats, ḴEĆO,LE would weave wool blankets. ḴEĆO,LE would learn about medicines from SEMSEMÍYE, and ḴEĆO,LE taught SEMSEMÍYE about hunting. SEMSEMÍYE started to realize she wasn’t getting anything from her relationship with her husband except a great friendship with his other wife. Everything they made, he took some for himself, but barely gave anything in return.
She asked ḴEĆO,LE, “You’re such a good weaver and hunter. Did you make and catch everything for my wedding?”
ḴEĆO,LE said, “Yes, I work very hard, and he reaps the benefits. But he’s hardly around. I don’t ever see him in the winter time.”
SEMSEMÍYE felt sad thinking of how lonely ḴEĆO,LE must have been over the years and realized she didn’t want the same thing for herself. She became homesick.
Winter was coming, and that’s when she realized she had got everything she needed from her marriage—the precious baby she was expecting and a beautiful sisterhood with ḴEĆO,LE. She told ḴEĆO,LE she would have to go back home, because no place could make her as happy as her homeland. They hugged goodbye, and SEMSEMÍYE traded her mats for ḴEĆO,LE’s blankets.
When SEMSEMÍYE got home, she made her home as comfortable as possible so she could rest during her last trimester through the winter. Her mats were good for keeping her longhouse warm and making her bed comfortable. The blankets from ḴEĆO,LE kept her warm as well. SEMSEMÍYE found herself feeling grief as the days grew shorter, so she’d soak snowberries and use that water to take away the sting of her tears.
SEMSEMÍYE had worked hard all year making her mats to keep her house warm, but not everyone did. So they came to her asking for mats. She’d tell them, “Take what you need, but let me rest. I need to take care of me and my baby.” When she was feeling stressed about having to provide for so many people, she’d start humming songs to her baby and reflect on her memories of harvesting in the spring and summer. She said to her baby, “When spring comes, it brings the most beautiful sights. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who sees how beautiful everything is. I hope you have eyes just like me.”
SEMSEMÍYE listened to her teachings and appreciated everything about her land, and that’s what made it possible for her to work so hard. She’d always manage to have extra to give to those in need, but that’s why it was so important for her to have alone time in the winter so she could take care of herself.
XÁLS, the creator of W̱SÁNEĆ, saw this woman and turned her into the bee. SEMSEMÍYE—the bee—teaches us to love the land and flowers and to give back to the land. The bee teaches us about people who love their land so much they need to stay home and take care of it and also the importance of self-care and grieving. This is why it’s important to take care of her favourite plants—the camas and the snowberry—so she can have healthy food and so she can be filled with so much joy and gratitude that she’ll continue to take care of the land for us.