North of 60 Interview: Wilma Pelly

Here's a brief update on Wilma Pelly's activities between our
chat in April, 2002 and this one in August, 2003.


PW: The last time we talked, more than a year ago, you were about to start getting pension checks and looking forward to that!

WP: [laughs]

PW: Have you done any other film or TV work between then and now?

WP: I did "DreamKeeper."

PW: Ah, you did? What's your role in that?

WP: I played an elderly woman in the Multnomah tribe. Now they're not around any more. They were from B.C.

PW: What time period was that set in, do you know?

WP: Way back. We were wearing grass skirts and grass shoes. And we wore some kind of like furry skins.

PW: And what did your character do in that segment?

WP: Well, she was like yelling around town because a sickness had befallen the village and my grandson was one of those that had gotten sick. And he all of a sudden got cured, so I was yelling around wondering who had brought this good luck.

PW: Do we find out what caused the good luck?

WP: Yeah, you do, at the end.

PW: "DreamKeeper" certainly sounds like an interesting project.

WP: Yeah, they did so many legends all throughout Alberta.

PW: Was it an interesting project for you?

WP: Yeah, it was nice. I liked it. The location was good. It was in Thompson Creek Falls, the Saskatchewan River crossing between Banff and the Columbia Icefields.

PW: Oh, so up in the mountains.

WP: It was in the mountains, it was beautiful. It was in June, so it was really, really nice.

PW: So that was more than a year ago that you filmed that.

WP: Yeah, but they filmed all summer. I think ours was the second legend, 'cuz Michelle [Thrush] said she was in the first legend. So they were like all through the summer. I think it was five or six of them they did.

PW: Yeah, at least. It's a big miniseries.

Speaking to Kids

PW: Have you done any movie or TV work since then?

WP: No, actually I got into this thing where I get invited to Native communities to talk to the children to stay in school and get an education.

PW: Because through your character on "North of 60" you've become a role model?

WP: Yeah, yeah. I didn't expect this one child, he asked me, "Well, what about you, Elsie? Did you stay in school?" He asked me first, "What grade did you go to?" And I said, "Grade ten." And he said, "Then you didn't stay in school!" And I said, "If you went to the school I went to, you wouldn't finish school, either!" I said, "I went to a residential school," and he said, "Oh, I've heard of them. My grandma told me about them." Then I said, "So that was my reason for not finishing school, but I have two daughters who finished school."

PW: How did you manage to leave residential school after tenth grade?

WP: Well, at 16, they had to let us go whether they liked it or not.

PW: And where was that?

WP: Lebret Residential School in Saskatchewan.

PW: What age group children have you been speaking to?

WP: All the way from grade one on up to high school here in Alberta.

PW: When you speak to school groups, have the little kids seen the show?

WP: Oh, yeah, they've seen it. They're getting hooked on it. But they're also thinking that some things are real here that it's not, so you have to tell them that they pay a lot of money to make these things for TV.

PW: You mean they think Lynx River exists? And that you're Elsie Tsa Che?

WP: Yeah, yeah. The older ones kind of understand. But even auntie was an extra here last week. My auntie's 81 years old, and I got her to be an extra. And she phones me and she says to me, "What am I supposed to wear, my girl?" And I said, "As long as you don't wear red, white, or black." "Okay," she says. "So what am I going to be doing?" "We'll be going to a feast," I told her. "Ooohhh," she says. I mean, not thinking to tell her, it's going to be on TV and she won't be able to eat.

So she starves herself all day, and she comes and she couldn't eat. She said, "I thought you said we were going to a feast!" I said, "Oh, I should have told you it was a pretend feast!" [laughs] But she was okay once she got here; they fed her good food.

PW: Back to the kids, that's great that another generation is getting to enjoy the show.

WP: I'm getting recognized more with the reruns than when we first got a start.

Aboriginal Day and Dancing

WP: And then my cousin, who organizes Aboriginal Day in B.C., she asked me to come there last year, but I couldn't because I was visiting Dakota [House] in Edmonton on Aboriginal Day. So she made me come this year!

PW: So you spoke to children at that event, too?

WP: No, not children, just mostly like an appearance for adults. I was a dancer. I dance traditionally. George [Leach] was there, too, he performed.

PW: Oh, you dance? Which category?

WP: Women's traditional buckskin.

PW: I'd love to see some pictures of your dress. I'll bet it's beautiful.

WP: I left them home today. I was bringing them to set every day.

PW: Do you make your own dance clothes?

WP: Well, now I am. But when I first started out, I didn't. I got people to make my stuff.

PW: Do you go to powwows frequently?

WP: Quite a bit, yes, in the summertime.

PW: Do you do competitive dancing?

WP: Oh yes. I just was at the Tsuu T'ina powwow at the end of July.

PW: Have you been dancing since you were a little girl?

WP: Yeah, when I was a child I danced, summer holidays when I would come home. But when I came to Calgary in 1955 I stopped dancing completely until 1984. Then I went back to it.

"Distant Drumming"

PW: Do we see much of Elsie in "Distant Drumming"?

WP: A little bit, not too much.

PW: Is she keeping Teevee in line again?

WP: Well, she's kind of keeping the town in line! [laughs]

PW: I hear that Matthew stirs up some trouble.

WP: Yeah, he stirs up a little stuff. But I'm on his side, eh? I'm the only one who's on his side. I think he's a good guy because he saved Teevee last year.

PW: I suppose that supporting Matthew sets Elsie against Michelle and some other people?

WP: No, not really. They just realize that when I do speak my peace that I am telling the truth about things. Because if it wasn't for him, Teevee would still be in jail.

PW: So it's the usual thing of Elsie speaking her mind?

WP: Yeah, Elsie's the boss! [laughs]

PW: The truth comes out about who really runs Lynx River! I think you may not be wrong!

WP: Even the little kids on the reserve, they think, "Elsie owns that town, eh?" [laughs]

PW: So other than that, you're just taking it easy?

WP: Yeah, just waiting for retirement. At 70, I retire for sure.

PW: But you'll still come back and do these, right?

WP: Oh yeah, if they keep going, I told them I'd be loyal to them till the end! If "North of 60" keeps going, I'll just be along with them!

PW: Well, I'm relieved to hear that, because it just wouldn't be the same without Elsie! Thank you for your time, Wilma.

WP: You're welcome!

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Text and photos (c) 2003 Patricia F. Winter.

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