Elders

Our Elders are our living link to our culture and history. The Elders say when the roots of a tree are strong, the tree will be strong, too. Our ancestors are our roots. This is the 'Tree of Life' depicted by Mervyn Child in his carving on the right. We have the hase' of our ancestors, which means we carry their breath in us. When we remember all they have taught us, we will be strong. Each of us carries our Kwakiutl name with pride, and remembers those things the Elders teach us.

Profiles

Some Profile stories from our profile stories of some of our elders:

Hazel Alfred

“An afternoon with Laudie”, from Awa’K’Wis, June, 1994

Her name is Hazel Alfred, but as far back as anyone can remember her family and friends have called her by her nickname, Laudie.

Wearing a Canuck sweatshirt, and sitting back on the couch in her cozy Fort Rupert home she shares with her daughter-in-law, Bea, the strong-spirited elder is taking a breather after some very emotional days. Four days have passed since her surprise 75th birthday celebration which more than 225 guests attended in the U'gwamalis Hall. Many speeches were made and songs sung in her honor.

As she stood and cut the cake that evening, she was surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and tears were in her eyes as she thanked everyone, deeply touched by their presence and words.

Born on June 10, 1919, she is one of eight children of Chief Jonathan Hunt (Odie) and Alice Hunt of the Kwakiutl First Nation. "I had a very good life because I had very good parents," she says. "We had a very happy life as a family."

My mom was a noblewoman. She was very high-ranking in the way our potlatches go. her marriage to my dad was arranged, and through her, my dad got a lot of dances and songs."

She describes her parents as quiet people who were well-respected, and her dad hosting a lot of potlatches.

She lived with her family in Fort Rupert until she was fifteen, when her life changed dramatically. One evening, she recalls, her father received a number of visitors from Alert Bay -- Moses Alfred, Jim Roberts, Pete Knox, Sr. and dan Cranmer. They stayed for two days.

"I was sitting in the front room, and they ere talking in the other room, and the next thing they told me was that I was getting married," she says. the man she married was Moses Alfred's son, George. He was 21 years old, and she had only ever seen him in passing when she went to Grade 2 in St. Michael's, the residential school in Alert Bay.

"Because I had such respect for my parents, I never said nothing. I did what they told me," she remembers. But it was not without a little fear. "I was scared because I was young, and didn't know what kind of man he was." But she says her parents chose well. "I was lucky. He was good, and handsome -- a good man and a good father."

Shortly after the marriage arrangement she went to Alert Bay where a marriage ceremony was held on January 17, 1935. But before it took place, she remembers meeting the preacher and his questioning eyes. "He asked me how old I was. I wouldn't lie, so I just turned and looked at my dad, and he said '16'," she remembers with a laugh.

"We had seven children," says Laudie. In due time, she and George moved to a large five-bedroom house that was always filled with friends and family visiting Alert Bay. George skippered a seine boat and for 13 years Laudie worked in housekeeping at st. George's hospital. Every August she'd go out fishing with George for a month. "That's my holiday when I'd go out fishing."

In the years that followed, George worked as a band councilor in Alert Bay. George died October 16, 1974.

Unlike her father, George didn't believe in potlatching. that's why it surprises her that her son is reviving potlatches and learning about the culture and the old ways.

I was her son's potlatch that she first attended after staying away from them for years. She also speaks with pride of the replica of her father's longhouse that is now in the Provincial Museum in Victoria. She often listens to the tape recording of one of his potlatches. "I'm learning from it. I just listen to it over and over. Now why didn't I learn that when they were around? I guess when you get older, you start to pay more attention to what's going on."

There is one thing that has been weighing on Laudie's mind. "When you go into the longhouse for a potlatch or a feast, you go out of respect for the person who is hosting, and you must leave all bad feelings toward anyone behind when you enter. we go in there as one people."

And she praises the youth who are learning the culture. "We need to be grateful to the young men who are learning our dances and songs. we need to respect them and be proud of what they're learning."

 

Chief Willie Walker

“Eye on Downtown” from Awa’K’Wis, January, 1995

Tuesday afternoon in Gastown, and I'm early for an interview with Willie Walker, a high-ranking hereditary Kwakiutl chief, one who has lived most of his life in the downtown eastside, choosing to work in Vancouver's notorious Balmoral Hotel bar.

Moments later, and his tall (6'2") lanky figure is making his way up West Pender street, a rolled up newspaper in one of his pockets. He takes long strides, and when he comes to a stop, I notice how his features and dress are statesman-like, and his demeanor is gentle and courteous. Willie is 65 and has been a board member on the Native Health Society and the Downtown Eastside Residence Association. In July, 1993, he and Elijah Harper co-officiated the opening of the Native Health Centre.

Walker threads his way through the streets that have been his neighborhood for thirty years. He nods to familiar faces. "I like it when people say hi," he says. "A lot of kids here. Every time they say 'Uncle Willie' I know something's wrong. They just want to talk. 'Okay, I'm here -- I'll listen to you'."

With his years here the residents have gained a trust in Willie, and kids from all sorts of nationalities seek him out and find in him a non-judge mental listener. He gives them a word of encouragement, and a reality check, warning them that the only one who can take them off the road they're traveling is themselves.

In a way he views these kids as his own. he knows both their vices and their good sides. "Got to take the good with the bad," he says. "There's always good and bad in everybody -- it doesn't matter who it is."

Few here are aware of his rank -- born September 4, 1930 to Hereditary Chief Frank Walker of Fort Rupert, and Lucy Nelson, a princess (daughter of Hereditary Chief George Nelson) from Quatsino. He prefers to keep a low profile, both at home in Fort Rupert, and in Vancouver.

"A few years ago, at a potlatch in Alert Bay, I was going to sit with the people, but the Elders called me up by my Indian name and I walk up to them. One was Jim King from Gilford and another was Uncle Tommy Hunt.""This is where you belong," they told him, "because your dad was a big chief."

He opens a cardboard case to reveal a photo of himself as a teenager, standing beside his father who is in full regalia, wearing a grizzly bear headdress that is now in the UBC Museum of Anthropology. The photo was taken in front of the residential school in Alert Bay, where he spent most of his youth, from age four to fourteen, finding the academics easy and skipping two grades.

As a boy, he would sometimes go trapping in Knight Inlet with his father and San Hunt. And whenever he was in Fort Rupert, he would often sit with spruce Martin who told him stories of life long ago.

Willie is an intriguing man. He is a chief who keeps a low profile. He works in a bar, but he quit alcohol. He is a gentleman who must (at work) use his fists on occasion. He is a loner who likes to be with people. He dispenses advice, but doesn't expect it to be taken. He is an observer of human nature, and a realist, as knowledgeable of the old ways as the intrigue of the city streets.

 

William “Williw” Hunt

“Trapping Stories”, from Awa’K’Wis, November, 1993

This story is about how trapping was done with 'old time' trapper William "Willie" Hunt of Fort Rupert. Willie's parents were Chief Johnathon Hunt (Odie)and Alice Hunt. His mom was from Village Island, and Willie grew up in Fort Rupert.

Willie learned to trap at a very early age, first from his father, then from his grandfather, George Hunt, when his father became ill and had to go the hospital in Alert Bay.

He explained that you were allowed to trap anywhere in the province, there were no laws restricting trap line territory until the 1930's. At that time a licence had to be purchased. It was a small aluminum tag with the year and a number stamped on it. If you could not produce this licence when the game warden approached, then you could go to jail.

Most plentiful for trapping were mink, beaver, marten and raccoon. Mink pelts were the favorite because they could easily be sold for cash to Pappas Furs in Vancouver. Lynx and otter furs were bought from Kingcome, Bella Bella and Smith Inlet. The main centres for the fur trade were Vancouver and Winnipeg. Marten pelts were another favorite of old time trappers.

December and January ere the best times for trapping because the furs were thick, dark and shiny.

Trapping was a side line for many Natives when they were not trapping they were out fishing or logging.

The types of trap used were small metal traps with sharp teeth, which were covered with leaves and dirt so as not to be seen. "You couldn't smoke either because the animals could smell the tobacco smoke on the trap and wouldn't come near."

When the trap line was set, explained Willie, each one was marked to help the trapper remember where it was; although a few trappers could rely solely on their memories.

Trapping as a side line to earn extra money was a favorite pastime of Willie Hunt's, and it is greatly missed. Talk of the endeavor brings back many fond memories of time spent in Seymour Inlet with his dad, or Smith Inlet with his grandfather -- memories vividly recalled.

 

Margaret Frank (Aweetsa)

From Awa’K’Wis

Mrs. Margaret Elizabeth Frank, born December 17, 1897 in Fort Rupert. OU-MA-GE-LIS, daughter of Emily Hunt and Charlie Wilson, granddaughter of Robert Hunt.

Margaret's interview is a combination of her life story and the wisdom and stories of Kwakiutl life that she shared with us.

Margaret starred in Curtis' Land of the Head Hunters when she was 17 years old. She played the part of Naida, the chief's daughter.

She went to work in the hospital in Alert Bay, the first Native woman to do so.

She married a man from Bella Bella, Johnny White. She had never met him until their wedding day. Moses Wilson had known the family, and she was married under Indian Law. She was married to him for 3 years. He spent most of his time in camp, while she ran a store in Bella Bella, as well as working part time at the hospital there. She adopted two girls there, Lena and Margaret.

She left Johnny because of his drinking, and went to Alert Bay. She mentions if she hadn't adopted children she would have been a nurse. She still has her nurses uniform from those days. She worked in the hospital from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and in a Chinese store from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. A lot of fisherman came in, including one named Andy Frank, whom she had met at a dance. He asked for a flashlight and then hung around the store, but she wasn't interested in him. Undaunted, he came in to see her every night. Finally, her boss asked Andy if he wanted to talk to her, and his reply was that he wanted to marry her. The Chinese man said, "do you have a home?" Andy replied "no", and the Chinese man replied back "you'll have to work hard before you can marry her. She is a good lady."

Andy went fishing and invited her to go to Vancouver. She went, but used her own money so as not to be obligated to him. She wasn't planning to marry a second time.

Andy had good reason to be persistent: she had long, beautiful hair and good legs. the male patients used to make comments about her legs and looks in Kwa-Kwa-La, and they were embarrassed when they found out she knew what they were saying. She used to keep her long hair up in braids.

When she returned from her trip, Andy asked her to marry him. She said she would have to ask her father, because her sister and brother had quit potlatching and her father wished her to take over the chief's rights. he did not want her to marry outside Fort Rupert. Aneetsa liked potlatching -- she said nobody could stop her from potlatching, even if it meant going to jail.

She married Any under Indian Law, and later in church. He was a good husband to her, never angry, or physical, and he always trusted her with all their financial affairs.

She says there were hardly any people living in Comox until Andy and her dug a well. Then people started to come home because they had a water supply. She adopted two more girls, Dolly and Mary.

Andy and Mary pot latched a lot in Fort Rupert, beginning with their marriage potlatch money. She says some books say that children were sold into marriages for money, but that is incorrect. Money was fluid, flowing back and forth from potlatch to potlatch. The money given for an engagement went to the mother, and if the marriage partners didn't get along, the marriage was ended and the money returned. The families always looked into the backgrounds of their prospective spouses to see if it was a good marriage fit. Girls were brought up to behave and prepare for marriage. If the couple separated, the woman would take all her possessions and double it to pay back her marriage contract. Sometimes marriages took place just to secure backgrounds for names and crests, etc. The money was given to the parents, just like a normal engagement. Mary says you never end up broke if you potlatch -- the money just keeps going around and always comes back.

When Andy built the big house in Comox, He pot latched and invited all the coast down to open it. He never asked for a grant to build it, and it cost him $17,000. All that Aneetsa has in traditional songs, titles and dances belongs to her. She says some people have no background and take rights that do not properly belong to them. She is especially concerned with the songs. She cautions not to use the songs wrongly, or lightly -- they are an important part of the law. The Laws were important. She recalls that when people separated, they never gave up on the idea of their marriage, but kept talking and doing all they could to get back together. She says that in the old days there was no breaking and entering, no rape or kidnapping. She says that the Laws and penalties were severe, and that we've learned crime from non-native people.