“That’s not why I went. I went because the world deserves to know who Jasmine is.” “What did you tell them?” Momma smiles again. “That our daughter is a strong Wet’suwet’en woman and a frog girl. And I told them about all the amazing things she’s going to accomplish for the world when we find her.” Father hugs Momma and tries to hold in his tears. But Father can’t. They flow down his cheek like the river through the canyon, splashing against the rocks and passing the smokehouse. “Where is she?” Father asks. Momma pats the stitching on Father’s vest. “Right here.”Read Trevor Jang's The Frog Girl
Our traditional Wet’suwet’en society is made up of five clans and thirteen house groups. Each clan, house and hereditary chief name has its own cin k’ikh, meaning “trail of songs” or history. This oral history describes place names on our traditional territory as well as events that took place on the land. “The Girl Who Married the Frog” is one of the origin stories of the frog crest. Belonging to the Likhsilyu, or the Small Frog Clan, I wanted to explore this story but in a contemporary context.
The legend involves a girl who goes missing, who is the daughter of a village chief. This inspired me to create characters who are also coping with the disappearance of a Wet’suwet’en girl, but during the height of the national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I feel the inquiry is a moment in time where we shine a light on the lingering shadow of our country’s colonial legacy. How Indigenous women and girls are valued by our society in the times to come will determine if reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can ever be realized.
I also wanted to write a story that puts a spotlight on my people’s traditional worldview. I truly believe a fully revitalized and celebrated Indigenous culture unleashes an additional layer of depth and meaning to the hearts and minds of all Canadians who experience its beauty.
“The Girl Who Married the Frog” tells of events that took place on our land during time immemorial. “The Frog Girl” tells of events being experienced by our people right now.
Maybe the two are not so different.
The Frog Girl By Trevor Jang
A shady mist in the dampened sky moves with the wind, gradually removing the light of the stars.
Granny stands on the edge of the hill, overlooking the village canyon. The highway behind her is silent. Below the river roars through jagged walls and echoes with the breeze against her hollowed face. Granny has been sad for too long. She makes her way down the side of the hill, knees and back aching with each step. Granny breathes deep, the suction of oxygen jabbing at her skeletal frame. She groans and carries on.
Her moccasins scrape across the dusty wooden bridge. She looks over the railing. The last of the ice chunks have melted into the river. She breathes loudly. “Hadih!” Granny shouts. “Hello!” Nothing. Granny begins a clan song, from the old days. Her soft melody hangs in the air. Then it’s plunged into the river. Granny watches her song flow downstream. She raises a foot onto the lower railing. Then the other. Granny braces herself, feet dangling in the wind. Suddenly, there's movement out of the corner of her eye. She looks to her right, towards the end of the bridge - until she meets the gaze of a frog. Startled, she nearly slips off the bridge. She composes herself, as the moonlight pokes out from the corner of a dark cloud. Granny sees there are two frogs. The bigger frog packs a little frog on its back. She squints and looks closer. Do these frogs have the faces of young children? ~
Father searches the house in a panic. She’s not in her bedroom. She’s not in the basement. He storms back up the stairs and down the hall. “MOM! Where are you?!” He opens the door to the front porch. Dark clouds cover the village like a wet blanket. “HADIH!” Nothing but dogs barking in the distance. Father quickly searches the yard with a flashlight then hops in his car. He weaves through the village dirt roads, not spotting her, then turns onto the highway, feeling sick with stress.
He drives past the canyon and slams on the brakes. “Ndu 'elh'ah?! He screams, running, nearly tripping down the hill towards the bridge. “What are you doing?!” Father wraps his arms around Granny and pulls her off the ledge. “Dengeegh?” He spurts, sweat dripping from his forehead. “What happened to you?” Granny looks into his eyes, in a daze. She looks to the end of the bridge. Nothing’s there. She looks back at her son. “I don’t remember.”
~ Back inside the house Father tucks Granny into bed. “Make sure I’m up at sunrise,” Granny insists. “Busy day at the Fisheries.” “You don’t work there anymore. Remember?” “What are you boy, stupid?” Granny snaps. “I’ve been there 15 years.” “You’re going to the health centre tomorrow. Playing bingo with the elders like every week.” “BINGO? With the fishing season right around the corner?! Denentgëgh?” Granny asks. “What’s up with you?” Father closes his eyes and takes a deep breathe. “It’s time for your medicine.” “Why do you give me this crap? Trying to get me sick?” “Just TAKE it, Mom,” Father says.
“Where’s Jasmine?” Father freezes. “What?” “Where’s my granddaughter?” “I don’t know.” “YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR TWO-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER IS?” “She’s not two, she’s 16 and….” Father fumbles with Granny’s medicine. His hands are shaking. “She’s missing mom.” “Ëtdiwedizïnï’!” Granny snaps. “Don’t say that!” Father slams the tray on the ground. “She’s been missing over a year. We go over this every damn night.” “K'idze 'enekh.” She says. “Stop it.” ~
Father stands outside the band office smoking a cigarette. He used to say he would quit. But he hasn’t. He walks inside the boardroom and drops his papers. “Let’s keep this short,” he mutters under his breath. “The company needs a Band Council Resolution to start construction. Sign it and pass it around.” His band councillors look at each other, not knowing what to say. “Chief, we haven’t had time to discuss this,” Sharon says from across the table. “You never included us.” Father clenches his fist. “You were ALL invited to the meetings in the city. So those of you who know what’s going on can sign the damn thing.”
“Our elders haven’t looked at how it will impact the land,” Sharon urges. “Glen- sign it,” Father barks. The paper slowly makes its way around the table. The councillors who always listen to Father sign their names. “You’re so disrespectful!” Sharon sneers. “You are not a leader.” “Take it easy,” Glen says back. “Chief’s been through enough.” ~
“She did it again last night,” Father says, staring blankly at a pale white wall at the health centre. “She ran off?” The nurse asks. “To the canyon this time.” “She’s going to have lapses where she thinks she’s younger. If she used to spend time down there, it makes sense she’d go back.” “She nearly jumped off the bridge.” The nurse pauses. “Have you considered…” “No.” “A home might be the safest option.” “Absolutely not.” “She needs to be watched 24/7. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, Chief so…“ “You KNOW? Father interrupted. “And what exactly do you KNOW about what’s on my plate?” “Son. Don’t yell at the nurse,” Granny says, walking into the waiting room. “Or they won’t let me come back to Bingo.” “Let’s go Mom.” “You’re always welcome back to Bingo,” the nurse chirps. “But try to let somebody else win sometime.” Granny grins mischievously. ~
“I know you’re worried about me,” Granny says in the car. “But I can take care of myself.” Father concentrates on driving. “I know everybody’s worried about me. But they don’t understand.” “Nobody is worried about you.” “I heard what the nurse said.” Father doesn’t say anything. “I don’t like what you’re doing at that band office,” Granny says. Father clenches the steering wheel harder. “Running a community is complicated.” “You’re not listening to the people. Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what my boy is doing.” “Our people need jobs Mom.” “You’ve forgotten our teachings son. When was the last time you took us to the potlatch hall? We need to see our people sing and dance and tell stories again. That’s better than any medicine the white man can give me.” Father and Granny drive passed the Canyon. “What were you doing on the bridge?” Granny looks out the window. “I was looking for Jasmine.” ~
Father boils a cup of tea while Granny sits comfortably in her chair looking out the living room window. “It’s going to be a good fishing season,” Granny states, as if suddenly reporting on behalf of Mother Nature. Father puts the cup in front of Granny who doesn’t look away from the brightness of the backyard. “How do you know?” Father asks. Granny points with her chin towards a pair of small, colorful birds fluttering about the yard, but says nothing. Father watches them, puzzled. “What about them?” “They’re always trying to tell us things, you just have to learn how to listen.” Father and Granny watch the birds circle the yard for another moment, before they change route and head toward the river beyond the trees. “Have I ever told you the story of The Girl Who Married the Frog?” Granny asks. “No,” says Father, even though she had, countless times. Granny’s eyes light up. “Well… the elders used to say to never laugh at any creature, no matter how small…” ~
Momma stands before a grand doorway, her palms sweaty and face flushed. Important-looking people in expensive suits brush passed her. She glances at herself in the glass wall, long brown hair shimmering under the glow of the chandelier hanging above. Makeup covers the bags hiding beneath her eyes. Momma is tired. Momma is nervous. But Momma is strong. She wipes her hands on her good blouse, takes a deep breath and enters. Momma joins other mommas, aunties and sisters around a big table, across from the people in fancy suits. She sits anxiously, as one of them stands to talk. The fancy suit people do a lot of talking. Momma looks down at her crumbled papers. Soon it will be her turn to speak. “Canada faces a national tragedy, and you are here because you’ve experienced this tragedy firsthand,” they begin. “Missing and murdered Indigenous women is NOT an Indigenous issue, it’s a Canadian one… and finding justice for your loved ones is all of our responsibility.” Momma feels tears swelling behind her eyes, but she holds them back. “You are here because we need you to lead this inquiry. We need you to tell us what needs to happen to ensure no Indigenous women is ever murdered or goes missing in this country again.” Momma re-reads her speech to herself as women around her begin to stand, one-by-one, and share their story. Some have lost their sister. Some are still looking for their niece. But all are speaking for someone, all for speaking for hope and all are speaking for change. ~
“There was once a young girl, whose father was Chief of the village,” Granny says, arms flailing. “This girl would always make fun of the little frogs by her father’s smokehouse, the one by the river. Then one day, she VANISHED!” Granny nearly knocks her tea over in excitement. Father can’t help but smile. “Her father looked everywhere for his daughter. The entire village helped him. But she was NOWHERE to be seen. Chief was ready to give up, but then someone noticed how peculiar the frogs by the smokehouse looked. So Chief followed them as they hopped towards the river, a big frog packing a little frog on its back. And SURE ENOUGH…“ “It was the Chiefs daughter,” Father chimes in. “Yes it was, son, it was. The frog girl turned to her father and told him she had been a bad girl, and that she had to go away forever. Then she followed the frog people into the river and never returned to the village again.” Father sits back and ponders the story, as if he really had just heard it for the first time. Granny continued. “Son… I know I am sick.” Father flinches. “Mom…” “Listen to me while I still make sense. You’re leading our community down a dark path. You need to reconnect to our culture. You are a Wet’suwet’en man. You know why there are frog crests on my button blanket? Because the frog represents water. We are here to protect our water. Not destroy it. Get back to the potlatch hall and apologize to your people.” Father stares out the window at the birds fluttering around but doesn’t respond. “It’s what Jasmine wants.” He turns. “Okay.” ~
Father stands outside the potlatch hall, wearing his vest with the frog crest stitched over his heart. He listens to the booming of the drum, the chanting and the laughter of the people. He closes his eyes. Father is uncomfortable. Father is ashamed. Momma comes up and taps him on the shoulder. He jumps. “You ready?” She asks. “I’m sorry I didn’t come with you,” Father says. Momma smiles. “That’s okay.” “Ottawa’s not going to find our daughter though.” Momma shakes her head. “That’s not why I went. I went because the world deserves to know who Jasmine is.” “What did you tell them?” Momma smiles again. “That our daughter is a strong Wet’suwet’en woman and a frog girl. And I told them about all the amazing things she’s going to accomplish for the world when we find her.” Father hugs Momma and tries to hold in his tears. But Father can’t. They flow down his cheek like the river through the canyon, splashing against the rocks and passing the smokehouse. “Where is she?” Father asks. Momma pats the stitching on Father’s vest. “Right here.”