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COMMENTARY · 8th September 2012
Merv Ritchie
In an act of treasonous behaviour, two tiny villages, the Indian Reserve Bands of Kitsumkalum and Kitselas, have initiated motions to destroy the Tsimshian Nation.

An appropriate analogy would be having the City’s of Montreal and Quebec in the Canadian Province of Quebec, negotiate a treaty with Argentina or Cuba.

Only a Nation can negotiate a treaty with another Nation.

The Kitselas and Kitsumkalum Bands, two tiny reserves, surveyed and designed by British Colonizers, cannot enter any treaty negotiations separate from the United Tsimshian Nation, the largest Indian Nation on the Coast of the North Pacific Ocean of North America.

Time after time the Elders and high Tsimshian Chiefs have travelled to meet the representatives of law and power; first of Britain, then Canadian. Each time it was to ensure respectful talks on the authority and ownership of lands. Always, first noted in the carefully transcribed negotiations and meetings of 1887, did the Tsimshian Chiefs speak with “eloquence and dignity”, offering a peaceful and open sharing of the bounty of their Country.

And always, at every previous and subsequent meeting, did they claim their Tsimshian Nation as a united and independent Nation having sovereignty over the entire lands of the Nation.

And always they were open to talks in sharing, Nation to Nation.

The Kitselas and Kitsumkalum Band Councils have brought shame to well over one hundred years, over four generations of leaders and ancestors by attempting to negotiate a treaty separate and apart from the Tsimshian Nation, those who stood with strength and dignity in Ottawa and Victoria.

Just ten years ago, in 2001, the Tsimshian Nation remained united and continued to pursue land and treaty negotiations as the Tsimshian Tribal Council (TTC). This strong National Council was formed from two Tsimshian representative bodies, the Council of Tsimshian Nations and the Allied Tsimshian Tribes.

Every Reserve Band Village and Council Body was united under the TTC in 1989.

Six years earlier, on July 28, 1983 the Tsimshian Nation made a declaration of claim to all the Tsimshian territories in preparation to begin claims with the Federal Government after the Nisga’a Calder case, heard in the Supreme Court of Canada, demonstrated the Indian lands ownership question remained unresolved.

The real problems began in Kitsumkalum in 1987 when, in what was called “an experiment” to revive a lost culture, a naming ceremony was included during a ceremonial feast after a pole raising. The highest Tsimshian Kitsumkalum name, Xpilaxha, an ancient high authority of the Raven Clan, was disrespected.

Elected Band Chief Clifford Bolton, a man of great talent and pride in his Kitsumkalum people and Tsimshian Nation, initiated an attempt to re-instill pride and culture back to the community.

The Kitsumkalum were long oppressed by the proximity of their community to Terrace, the center of the resource extraction operations of the previous 100 years. The step father of British Colombia’s present Lieutenant Governor, Steven Point, Bolton was the last Kitsumkalum leader to focus on traditional values, to encourage his people to have pride in being Indian and to follow traditions .

“I think that pride in yourself as an Indian person, whether its young people or old people is a very important thing and I know that the totem pole carving and totem pole raising activities that are taking place now has definitely instilled some pride in the younger people and the young generation.” Bolton stated during the pole raising ceremony in August 1987.

“And I know that they carry themselves a little more upright and they feel very proud of themselves, they feel very proud of being Tsimshian and Kitsumkalum.

"And it’s the first time a lot of them heard us being called people of the Gilla Qwaa, people of the Robin. So they have something to be proud of. And I think when they go back to school again, in September, and if they go back to the same teachers, the teacher will see a different child coming into those doors.

“We hope that each year we do something here that’ll help them grow, and grow to be good strong Indian people and be proud of themselves. I think that’s something that had been lost amongst our people over all these years that’s been most damaging because for maybe a generation or two people were ashamed of being Indians because of the picture that was painted of what a typical Indian was.

"It is important that we don’t only educate ourselves and our children, it is important to educate the non Indian segment of our society. And I think that’s the best through doing a totem pole raising and having feasts involving people from the community of Terrace and surrounding areas that are non-Indian people. It’s very important that they understand us and why we do the things that we do.”

The two poles raised at Kitsumkalum and the one dedicated and raised in Terrace at the RCMP detachment, provided great pride and joy for the Tsimshian people of Kitsumkalum.

They could feel their culture and the dancing and drumming practices, lost for generations, resuming. The tragedy of the event was the naming ceremony, transferring the Kitsumkalum highest Chiefs name, the Raven high house name of Xpilaxha (Part Sky) or (The big Chief Arrows have way to heaven), that of Charles Nelson Sr, to a man of Killerwhale decent.

Real traditional values forbid such an action.

There was a rush to incorporate the transfer of the high Raven name during the pole raising ceremony and in doing so the Kitsumkalum betrayed numerous traditional laws and cultural values. The culture of the Tsimshian is virtually identical to that of the Nisga’a, Gitxsan and Haisla.

It is a matriarchal and matrilineal culture. The women are the ultimate authority and their son’s and daughters carry the lineage of the mother, not the father. There are four identifiable groups (pteek’s) of people in the Tsimshian Nation and the same applies to the people of Kitsumkalum; Raven’s, Wolves, Eagles and Killerwhales (Blackfish). Every child born belongs strictly to the Pteek of their mother.

These Pteek groupings extend across national boundaries in strict adherence to traditional laws. No matter where an Eagle is born, an Eagle cannot marry an Eagle. Regardless of whether one is a Nisga’a Eagle and the other is a Gitxsan Eagle, a union of such is considered incest.

Only under unusual and sometimes unfortunate circumstances will such a union be permitted and only after one of the couple is adopted into another Pteek. After such an adoption the adoptee assumes the lowest rank in the Pteek, equal to that of a slave, belonging but having no authority or role in the Pteek or the house group of the Pteek called a Waap.

Traditional elders and the culture demand the adherence to this immutable (unchangeable) law.

And it was the breaking of these traditional Tsimshian laws which caused a serious detriment to the Kitsumkalum Nation. It is why today, twenty-five years later, the Kitsumkalum are facing shame and disgrace in the Tsimshian Nation.

In 1987 when this event took place, the Canadian and British Columbia governments were beginning to understand they needed to resolve the land issues with all the NW Nations. As most other Reserve Band Communities were not as assimilated as the Kitsumkalum were, they retained knowledge and understanding of their hereditary culture. Most Kitsumkalum people did not. Most were raised in the fishing villages and canneries on the Skeena River such as Port Essington, Sunnyside or Cassier.

In a letter dated November 29, 1982, another Kitsumkalum Elected Chief, Don Roberts Sr., in an attempt to educate a Nelson family member of her own heritage wrote to a Great Granddaughter of Charles Nelson Sr. stating “At the present time, the name (Xpilaxha) is held by Roy Nelson.”

Writing about the 1987 pole raising ceremony and transfer of the name Xpilaxha to Gerald Wesley, James McDonald wrote in ‘People of the Robin’ regarding the authority of Addie Turner to authorize this event, “Addie is the granddaughter of the last holder of the title, Charles Nelson senior.”

McDonald added “Unfortunately, because of the legacy left by the federal Indian laws and social pressures hindering the practice of Tsimshian ways, the [Nelson] family was not prepared and had difficulty identifying an individual from with in the [Xpilaxha] Waap who was able to take the title.”

Obviously there was a difference of opinion on this issue and further the Nelson family was/is very large. Dave Nelson and his (Raven) wife Pricilla had 17 children. This being just one line of many Nelsons.

What transpired then, was a well known transgression of traditional Tsimshian Ayaawx [laws].

At the 1987 pole raising and feast, Wesley was first adopted into the Raven Pteek from his mothers Pteek, Killerwhale. Then, at the same moment, handed the highest Tsimshian Kitsumkalum Hereditary name, that of Xpilaxha; an unheard of action anywhere in the Northwest Indian culture. Never has an adoptee been granted the highest name.

According to Coastal First Nations Executive Director, Art Sterritt, it was he who convinced Wesley to return to Kitsumkalum. From 1981 to 1984 Wesley was the Band Manager of the Haisla Village of Kitamaat and between 1984 and 1991 he was the Executive Director of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on Vancouver Island.

Therefore Wesley was not even engaged in Tsimshian matters, let alone Kitsumkalum, when this highest of traditional names was bestowed upon him. Yet that is not how James McDonald records it. He transcribes Elder Winnie Wesley as stating the following;

“My Grandfather - my niyaa - Xpilaxha [in reference to Charles Nelson, Sr] built a nest at Kitsumkalum. And my Grandmother. We expand that nest. Some of them [Kitsumkalum people] are out. Some of them are starting to come back to the nest. That’s why Gerry take the name. He did not move out of the nest. He just moved a little way inside the nest. That’s all.”

In fact, according to Wesley’s own biography he was gone from the Tsimshian Nation entirely from at least 1981 to 1991. Hardly moving a little further inside the nest.

After accepting this high Raven Kitsumkalum name, in the most obscure and improper fashion, Wesley became the Chief Negotiator for the TTC (Tsimshian Tribal Council).

After the BC Liberal Government of Gordon Campbell was elected in 2001 the provincial government changed the treaty negotiations into an Incremental Treaty Process. Negotiations soon broke down and various Tsimshian communities walked away from the negotiating table.

Wesley, however, continued to negotiate without the rest of the Tsimshian Nation and started a new society without the Lax Kw’Alaams and the former Allied Tsimshian Tribes comprising of at least nine Tsimshian groups.

As these events were happening, with Wesley agreeing to continue to negotiate a treaty without his Tsimshian counterparts, at Kitsumkalum, one of the two poles raised in 1987 with the name transfer ceremony suddenly fell to the ground in such a manner that it shook the entire Band Council offices.

It can be seen today, still lying on the ground where it fell. Tradition states it must stay where it fell until it completely decomposes.

Another pole needs to be raised, however this time it needs to be a shame pole.

Almost every high ranking Kitsumkalum Chief (Sm’oogyet) is frustrated and upset over the events of the past twenty-five years. Only the family of the elected Council, those representing the interests of the Crown, seem to be content with the bastardization of the Tsimshian way of life.

Clifford Bolton had a dream. It was a dream of a revitalized proud people;

“We hope that each year we do something here that’ll help them grow, and grow to be good strong Indian people and be proud of themselves. I think that’s something that had been lost amongst our people over all these years that’s been most damaging because for maybe a generation or two people were ashamed of being Indians because of the picture that was painted of what a typical Indian was. It is important that we don’t only educate ourselves and our children, it is important to educate the non Indian segment of our society.”

After the pole fell, after Wesley agreed to negotiate without the other Tsimshian peoples, all the dancing and celebrations stopped. Current Kitsumkalum Band Council Chief Don Roberts Jr. stated recently, ‘We don’t need to beat drums and dance to have culture.’ This would be like telling the Scotsmen to stop wearing their kilts and playing the bagpipes.

Documents indicate, since beginning the new society, Wesley has earned $150,000 each year. (Corrected from $250,000 11 am Sept 9, 2012) Currently this amounts to 1.5 million dollars to participate in this treason against the Tsimshian Nation.

Judas only got thirty pieces of silver.

On Monday, September 10, 2012, Wesley will be participating with the BCTC (BC Treaty Commission) in a handshake ceremony signalling the end of their negotiations on this stage of the Incremental Treaty Process called an Agreement in Principle (AIP). The BCTC representative, David Haggard, like Wesley, is married to a woman from the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation on Vancouver Island. It would appear as if Wesley has more in common with the BC Treaty Team than he does with regular Tsimshian people.

A proper resolution would be the return of the name to the Nelson Family lineage and a cessation of Treaty talks until the Tsimshian are united.There is never a rush to place the name on a male of proper heritage. It may take years. Very little good comes from a rushed decision and this recent history of the Tsimshian Nation proves that this ancient axiom holds true.

For 150 years the Tsimshian have been under assault in an insidious and malicious manner. Like the Gitxsan and the Haisla, the Federal and Provincial Governments and their associated agencies have worked to confuse and divide the people.

From BC entering confederation and instantly removing the right of Indians to vote, to the forced removal of children from their homes and culture, the forbiddance of the feasting and potlatch ceremony (the governing structure of the Nations) and the third world hardships of the reserves, it is no wonder why some turn from their traditions and accept money for their own comforts.

Gordon Campbell and his minions such as Roger Harris, Steve Wilson (former Kitamaat Village Councillor), Elmer Derrick with the entire GTS (Gitxsan Treaty Society) and the BCTC are only the latest to maliciously manipulate their nations. These people simply do not care for proper protocols and the traditional hereditary values of the people.

Prime Minister Harper’s apology to the Indian people means nothing if these transgressions against the Indian peoples continue.

It is akin to someone kidnapping your entire family; Grandparents and children included, putting them in a cellar, advising you they are sorry for doing it, but leaving them in the dark, damp, musty cellar. The treaty process must stop until the proper hereditary governance structure is revitalized.

It is time for the Tsimshian, along with their neighbors and extended families, ie: the Nisga’a, Haisla; Gitxsan, Tahltan, Tlingit, Wet’sewet’en and Haida, to re-enact their ancestors and stand strong and united together, again. It is what makes the Sacred Circle, Sacred.

In 1991 the Northwest Tribal Treaty Society, an organization which included all these Nations and a few others signed a declaration in front of thousands of their people in Prince Rupert at the All Native Basketball Tournament opening ceremonies which read;

“We shall assist each other to reaffirm our continuing Hereditary Title and give expression to our rights and to defend these rights against any erosion through external forces.”

It is time.

Read More Here

Watch a video of the 1987 Pole Raising With Links to More Information Here

The Millionaires Club - A Sun Media Expose'
shame pole
Comment by henry green on 15th September 2012
i would be more than willing to carve a shame pole,when and where? ,the true hereditary Sim'gigyets,Sigidm'hanak must be recognized and supported
Correction on Adoptee ranking as Slaves.
Comment by Kitsumkalum Band Member on 9th September 2012
The children are called Goobilwitxson. The chiefs have sons & daughters. These sons and daughters through Sigmanaxth are royalty.

The statement saying adoptee are the same ranking as slaves is absolute wrong. In the Tsimshian Nation the children of high ranking blood line . Never lose any rank in adoption. That adoption is identified as the son or daughter of that Waap.

A slave is captured in war or traded to other chiefs in history. This was apart of our culture. This our inheritance as culture.

Adopted children in our culture through Sigmanax are capable to become hereditary chiefs. All depends on the event.

Remember the youth are all Royalty.
Comment by John Olson on 9th September 2012
It takes genuine courage to make a stand for what your heart feels is the right thing to do. This article displays such courage. To write of such a sensitive subject is not an easy thing to do within our culture, for our culture's law is based on respect. To be disrespected by our own people, who are wheeling and dealing our soveriegn rights away, gives us the right to speak out and make our stand. Well done Merv Ritchie, we need more people to step up and stand with us in our stance against government corruption, when dealing with aboriginal rights and title.
No comment from the NDP?
Comment by Janice Robinson on 9th September 2012
The Tsimshian Nation writhes in pain from the ongoing exploitation and abuse. The political party who purports to respect, support and stand for ethical treatment of all First Nations and our territories stand around with a sock in their smiling, political faces!

I witnessed no support for this "handshake" at the meeting I spoke to you earlier about. Gerald Wesley's presentation was scheduled to last 20 minutes. Yet, four hours later, his audience was worn down from heat, thirst, fatigue, lack of bathroom facilities on that floor...and early-morning work responsibilities of the next day. The treaty team disrespectfully droned on, without a break....ignoring a Simoighet's stated concerns of the late hour, and that people were leaving, etc.

Four hours into this debacle, Eagle Simoighet.Niss Waatk respectfully rose to take his leave after denying any support for this handshake, the AIP process it precedes, and the treaty process. Period! The hour was late, and he had to get up at 5 a. M. To go to work. I followed him out, leaving Gerald Wesley, Alec Bolton, Don/Steve Roberts. And members of their family behind, and a representative of the Wolf Clan.

Maybe they took a vote to support Monday's handshake after we left.

I witnessed NO MEANINGFUL SUPPORT for this process expressed that night!

For the record.

Whii Nea ach.
Waap Gitxon. Eagle.
Kitsumkalum, B. C.
Comment by Cynthia Wunderlich (Nelson) on 9th September 2012
Please, stop this handshake, future signing's, agreements and unhereditary promises!
Comment by Manion Denise on 8th September 2012
There is a treaty meeting for all band members on Saturday, Sept. 15th starting at noon at the Kitsumkalum Community Hall to discuss the AIP.