Ktunaxa Elder Herman Alpine, photographed above the Hoof Print at ʔaq̓am. Photo by Faye O’Neil

Ktunaxa elder leaves legacy of courage, resilience and mentorship

Herman Alpine helped Ktunaxa move on from Residential School era, was key in revitalization of language

A prominent Ktunaxa elder has passed away, leaving a legacy of strength and courage, and a gift of language to generations of the Ktunaxa Nation and the ʔaq̓am community.

Herman Alpine passed away in his sleep, on July 4, in Trail. His life set an example for subsequent generations of Ktunaxa, especially with his passion for the Ktunaxa language and the importance of mentorship.

“The last direction I got from him was to be direct, and be strong,” said Nasukin Joe Pierre — ʔaq̓am Chief. “I did consider him a mentor of mine.”

Floyd Herman Alpine was born March 20, 1943, the son of Judith (nee Birdstone) and Noah Alpine.

Alpine attended the St. Eugene residential school from 1949 to 1961.

In a previous interview with the Townsman, he spoke of the trauma of that experience, of being cut off from his culture, and how that set him initially on a self-damaging path through life.

“Being human, I reached for humans to blame. I blamed the priests, I blamed white people — for many years that’s the way I thought,” Alpine told the Townsman.

“He had tumultuous time as a young man, coming out [of the residential school experience],” Pierre said. “He would talk to me about my grandfather, Andrew, who encouraged him to leave the area. My grandfather told him: ‘You need to go out there and find something you can do, something you can be.’”

Herman, on that journey, lived down in Washington State for many years. Looking for something he could be, he found himself.

“It was about holding on to who you are,” Pierre said, adding that those were Alpine’s father’s words to him when he was taken to residential school. “‘Never forget who you are.’”

Alpine came to realize he was suffering from what’s known as Residential School Trauma, and he sought treatment for it. The result was Alpine began looking within, and finding the strength to begin the healing process.

“I realized I was no longer the centre of my universe, and I chose to tell myself I was no longer a victim,” he said in the previous Townsman interview. “I understood why I was the way I was, and could accept the things I did.”

Alpine returned to ʔaq̓am in the early 1990s. At that time, he was one of the few fluent speakers of Ktunaxa, and he started teaching the language at the Band’s elementary school.

“And now, some of those original students are adults, and parents themselves,” said Pierre. “And what Herman observed that the effort our elementary schools are putting in [to teaching the language] is starting to pay off. He really loved watching those young adults with their children, teaching the language to them.

“He was very proud of his students. When it comes to being an Elder, one of the important things is to teach and share what you know. That was certainly Herman.”

Alpine made a great effort to share the Ktunaxa story with the community at large. Pierre spoke of how he would take a seat in the main window of the Chief Joseph Centre on Baker Street in Cranbrook.

”He wanted to share our Ktunaxa story with whoever would come in and say hi to him. I think that is a great part of his legacy.”

Alpine was part of the Residential School Trauma Team. Speaking from his own experience, he was able to help people through their own traumas, helping them realize that they could change.

He was a part of the transformation of the Residential School into the resort that it is now.

“He was big part of helping people in our nation understand what was happening with the place, and accept that the place can change, and become something different,” Pierre said. “He was able to help people through that.

“It was a big step in helping the entire nation realize they could move forward, and grow.”

Alpine was also a Resident Elder at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, and an Elder in Residence for School District 5, primarily out of Mount Baker Secondary School.

Alpine set an example of resilience, compassion and mentorship for the entire community. A wake and service was to be held in Cranbrook on July 6 and 7, restricted to family and pallbearers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A feast and giveaway in his honour and memory will be held at a later date.

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