YELM, Wash. - Vi Hilbert, known in Indian country as Taqwsablu (Talks-sha-blu), was born on July 24, 1918 to Louise Jimmy, a Samish and Charles Anderson, an Upper Skagit. The couple bore eight children but all were still born or died at birth except Vi.
"Because I am an only child, I was born to responsibility. All my people were historians, healers, and medicine people. Everything I do is on my shoulders to pass on to the best of my ability," she said.
Continuing she said, "I was raised in Washington, near Sedro Wooly, 80 miles north of Seattle. My people lived on the Skagit River. We are mountain hunters, salmon fisherman, and berry pickers."
Vi's dad was a canoe builder known to the Indians as Sious. During Vi's childhood, their mode of transportation was canoe.
With a moment's hesitation and a far away look in her eye, she recalls the memories, "My dad was an expert canoe builder. We didn't have a car for most of my childhood. We went everyplace by canoe unless someone was kind enough to take us to places you couldn't get to by water. I remember we'd go berry picking during the summer. I was an only child and my parents always took me with them. We would pack the canoe with our cedar root baskets and mom would take a lunch. We began picking early in the morning and picked all day. We'd then load the baskets in the canoe and paddle home. Mom would cold pack the berries until we had a hundred jars for our winter food."
Sitting quietly contemplating the past, Vi remembers another miracle of mysteries, "My father was well acquainted with the Skagit River. We fished a lot at night and he would take me with him on the moonlit nights. I'd ask him how he knew to where to go in the dark. He would answer me with a smile and say 'you memorize the land.' That's how we told the history of our land, how we memorized it," she said.
Still thinking, she continued, "It was always such a thrill to see a big King salmon jumping out of the water in the moonlight. My dad used a long-pole, dip net to catch the fish. He would pull the net through the water over and over until he got one. We like the King salmon the best. It has red meat. Depending upon the season, we fished for chum, silvers, and steelhead, too."
Speaking of food, Vi began talking about the Wobbit basket. "When there was a gathering and our family was invited to a fire to share food, we would bring a Wobbit basket. The basket carried utensils, dishes, and a dishcloth. You'd take your dirty dishes home to wash yourself. It was a good system," she said chuckling.
Taqwsablu's parents were members of the 'Smoke House' way. She said, "In November, the Smoke House became active in most of our areas. The spirits are known for traveling during the year until they return to us in the fall months. The spirits are then used by the people that have earned the right to use them. There is singing, dancing, and healing."
Vi is also a storyteller and uses this ancient Native American tradition in her healing journeys. One special story is cited here and she gives permission for others to use it.
"This healing/teaching story is world renown. It's only a few lines and is perfect for everything I do. It's called Lady Louse. Lady Louse goes to prisons, to detention centers and schools. She is used to allow the listeners to tell me their stories. Anyone I tell this story to receives an assignment to create their own original story of their reason for being," she said.
'Lady Louse lived in a great big house all by herself.
She had no friends or relatives.
So she swept this great big house.
There was a lot of dirt.
When she got to the middle,
Lady Louse got lost.
And that was the end of Lady Louse.'
"The listener is asked to look up the word symbolism," she explained. You have to think what does the story symbolize? Our people never lived alone in a big house. We were never allowed to be dirty? We were taught to keep our minds, bodies and clothes clean. What is the matter with this woman that lives in this big house all alone, that's full of dirt, and she tries to sweep it and gets lost?
Continuing she said, "People create their own stories. I never tell them what to think. When prisoners use it, they tell me why they are in prison for life. I tell you, dear ones, it is a healing/teaching story that is a powerful tool."
Vi taught at the University of Washington for 15 years and received an honorary Ph.D. for her contributions. She also taught at Evergreen State College for a year. She is currently director and founder of the Lushootsed Research Center in Seattle that is teaching Indian language and culture.
"Life should be lived," she said. "It's fun being almost 100 years old. The Creator gives us life to enjoy and that is your job. Enjoying life means discipline and industry. You have to find the right thing to do. If people earn their own way, it creates self-worth. No one does anything alone. There will always be people to encourage you."
"My parents said I was not better than anyone but that I was the best. With those words goes a responsibility to be the best I can be to honor my family and myself. The Creator gives us a beautiful life to earn the right to do everything," she said.
Vi Hilbert was designated Washington State's Living Treasure in 1989.