REPORTING · 24th February 2011
As the local First Nations communities continue on their struggles to regain pieces of their lost heritage and background, one local First Nation has fallen behind all the others. From all regions of the Sacred Circle, the Haida, the Tahltan, the Wet’sew’weten, the Gitksan, the Tlinglit, the Nisga’a and the Haisla, all have traditional ceremonial events and dancers. Even among most Tsimshian, the Kitselas, the Gitga’at, the Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and more, traditional expressions of their ancestral heritage is honoured, respected and practised. That is all except the Kitsumkalum.
This is the very reason expressed by Cynthia Wunderlich, a Nelson family daughter, for running in the upcoming Band election. She and other Nelson family members are putting their names forward to run in the upcoming election.
“I keep watching all the other communities perform their cultural songs and dances and wonder what happened to mine? I moved away as a teenager and returned in my late 30’s to find my community seems to be neglecting the hereditary system of our culture.” she explained, “There are many within our band now who are not even Tsimshian, let alone from the Kitsumkalum Nation.”
It is this singular issue that has inspired Cynthia to put her name forward and encourage her family to step up to the plate to bring back their culture and traditions from the past.
Cynthia is the daughter of Maxine Nelson and Gunter Wunderlich. Maxine, the one time Beauty Queen in Prince Rupert (1960’s), is the daughter of Dave and Priscilla Nelson and sister to Lloyd Nelson who Cynthia also encouraged to join in the effort to change the course of the Kitsumkalum Nation. Priscilla, Lloyd and Maxine’s mother, is also the Aunt to current Chief Councillor Don Roberts and Sister to Don Roberts Sr. It is a small and tight knit family among the Kitsumkalum.
The failure of the Kitsumkalum to rebuild their heritage, to reinvigorate their culture, is no ones fault. Many have made efforts to maintain the cultural persona including Chief Robert’s mother who continues to use her standing in welcoming ceremonies.
“We must respect everyone who took the time and made the effort to hang onto the remnants of our heritage for the youth and our future.” stated Cynthia as she reflected on the work ahead, “Our job now is to groom our youth, the future Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs, for the road ahead. We are facing many important decisions and plans, which will be affecting our community for generations and we need to have a foundation of strength to address all of these issues.”
The Kitselas First Nation, who have had great success under the guidance of Chief Glen Bennett, recently raised a number of Crest Poles and a new Totem in the Village of Gitaus. One of the Crest Poles raised was for the House of Guam. This has raised some eyebrows as the significance of this house has roots in the highest levels of the Tsimshian culture. Lloyd Nelson, a candidate for a Council seat at Kitsumkalum, is in the place to take the high position as a Hereditary Chief of the House of Guam, a Raven tribe being the highest house in the Tsimshian Nation. He has refused, however, to claim this position as the tradition, the hereditary culture, requires a feast and celebration prior to the bearing of the name associated with the claim. Lloyd respects this tradition.
More Nelson family members are putting their names forward to assist in reviving the Kitsumkalum Nation. Todd Nelson is Cynthia’s cousin and along with Michelle (Missy) Nelson, her second cousin and Diana Guno, (nee Nelson) completes the 5 member team of Council candidates who hope to bring change and dignity to the Kitsumkalum Nation.
Housing and membership are also areas of concern for this group of new candidates. Watching the elderly passed over for housing opportunities when non-original Kitsumkalum have more than one home is troublesome as is seeing new band members adopted while children of Kitsumkalum parents are denied status. Some of these issues are being addressed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada while others need to be addressed by the Band Council.
The Kitsumkalum Nation is small and has been granted reserve lands just west of Terrace. Considering this Nation owned and harvested from the entire region, bordered roughly from the Terrace Arena west to points north and south, the footprint of their reserve lands seems insignificant.
The Nelson Family has even more significance to the foundation of Terrace. George Little met with the Nelsons in 1905 as he attempted to stake his claim in the region. Emma and Charles Nelson were the first people to greet George Little when he arrived in the area. It has been reported they rescued George as he struggled to survive during his first year at a location near to where the old Skeena River bridge is located though there is no way to confirm the claims. Emma and Charles are the parents to Dave Nelson, the father and grandfather to this new team of candidates for the Kitsumkalum people.
February 28 is the day when all Kitsumkalum are eligible to vote for their new Council and Chief. It remains to be seen if the band members decide to venture on a new course or continue on the current journey away from the historical culture.
The Nelson family choices for a change in the Kitsumkalum Band Council
Comment by Tgirl55 on 28th February 2011
You usually do a better job at screening comments. So what happened?
Rudi how dare you.
Actually Rudi that is all I will say. For I have learned that when people feel the need to put down a group of people because they have different values we should just feel sorry for you. You are obviously lacking something in your life. Hope one day you will find it.
One step beyond animals?
Comment by Alfie McDames on 28th February 2011
For the person who thinks we started out dumb and are still 'dumb', How did our ancestors raise and put those very heavy house beams in place? Please give a detailed description of how they did it. Thanks
Comment by Janice P. Robinson on 27th February 2011
Whii Nea ach is my name. I am a chief matriarch and speaker for the esteemed Tsimshian Eagle House of Gitxon, at Kitsumkalum Village. I speak for our house, at the discretion of Simoighet Niiswaatk and Chief Matriarch Sim maguul (my oldest brother and my Mother).
Kitsumkalum is not a nation. It is a TSIMSHIAN Village. Number one Tsimshian Village, in my books. Like all B.C. First Nations were pre-contact, we remain Matrilineal.
We do not consider ourselves as "owners" of our house territories. Waap Gitxon territories include: Lach Gels Lake AND HOTSPRINGS; Red Sand Lake; Squaderee; areas of Arthur and Stevens Islands....etc. Generation after generation we stand for these lands. They are public property of the Tsimshian.
As is easily understood, Waap Gitxon has a long and respected history of sharing health and wellness. I once proudly heard a Nisga'a man describing how water from the hotsprings was carried back home, so that Elders who could not make the trip could soak their weary, arthritic bones in the healing water.
Whenever our Eagle House runs low, we always adopt from the same Raven House....also from Kitsumkalum. We are very excited to say that Kitsumkalum will soon be the scene of a gathering of royal Ravens. They wear, and carry, their Chief Matriarch names....and, like most Tsimshian, have never lived on a reserve. They keep a hairy eyeball on the individual who is parading their traditional chief's name around .
It is good to remember that the majority of Tsimshian DO NOT live on reserve. Our culture also does NOT recognize colour NOR "blood quantum." We are now coming in red, black, yellow and white.....and all shades in between.
We seem to have gotten over the nasty labels put on some of us by settlers: eg. cannibals, slave, witches, ad nauseum....and, we enjoy freedom of every kind (including freedom of religion).
I look forward to hearing any Tsimshian politician call for slamming the door on the "treaty process," and facilitating a gathering of the Tsimshian Tribal council.
There is nothing traditionally Tsimshian in any band council election. Don't look there for the Tsimshian culture.
Guns, Germs, and Steel
Comment by Darcy Metz on 26th February 2011
The fact that the first nations in this area are among some of the oldest cultures in the new world says something. If they were so primitive or backward they would never have thrived for some 10000 years or more.
If you want to understand perhaps why there were no "advanced" societies I suggest you return to your local library and read Jared Diamond's book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies." He explains quite clearly why advanced civilizations developed where they did. It has nothing to do with populations of people being incapable of such things.
Prior to Europeans?
Comment by Trina Robinson on 25th February 2011
you seem to have some knowledge of the Greek's, Roman's etc so my suggestion to you is to get some first nations education! For your information, first nations had a written language, mathematical calculation in place and definitely permanent "towns", more commonly known as winter and summer residences! Just because Europeans couldn't understand our written language or way of life doesn't mean it didn't exist until the European's "blessed" (sarcasm) us with it!
Comment by Tgirl55 on 25th February 2011
Good Luck Cynthia hope you get elected.
Sometimes people need to step back and look into the past to make progress for the future. And getting back and teaching the cultural heritage to the younger generations maybe a start.
To teach a child pride in his/her heritage will go along ways.
Comment by Vanessa on 25th February 2011
For 17 years my mother... Melodie Johnson ran the Dance Group in Kitsumkalum with help from Mildred Roberts and a few other Kitsumkalum members. Many many years she ran this group without much help or appreciation from Kitsumkalum, sadly. You must not have lived here long enough to see her efforts. She didn't have any traditional songs that belong to Kitsumkalum, she had to make her own songs for the dance group. For sooo many years our Elders(as children) were brain-washed with religion, saying that our language, our culture is un-civilized and a form of Devil Worship, so our ALOT of our Elders still feel this way and would not open up. Christian religion, Catholic Religion are not our culture at all, this was forced upon our Elders and brought down through the years. As for our children failing soo badly in school, is not mostly a lack from their parents or a gap in our education from our Band Councils. It is a failure of the school system in general, our children are led to fail from the time they are very young. It all starts at a very young age when children start to form their own opinions on what they like and don't like. Have you walked into a classroom in the Elementary Schools???? I remember walking in to drop off lunch for 1 of my kids and remember hearing the teacher screaming at them. How are kids supposed to learn when they hear their teacher yelling at them??? Or.. that fact that soo many teachers & people of authority bad mouth Natives, saying derogatory remarks about our people. These remarks stemming from ignorance & a few bad apples, we are all painted with the same brush. When we were little my mom also ran the Lax Kw'alaams Dance Group. I myself am a proud member of the Tsimshian Nation, born and raised with Tsimshian Culture. My mother.. Melodie Johnson is also Sigidmhana'ax with her grandmothers name which is akin to a matriarch from our clan in Gitkxaahla(Kitkatla) where we come from an unbroken maternal bloodline. I so agree that we need a change, a change in the way people think :)
Comment by Trina Robinson on 25th February 2011
I would hope that you don’t honestly believe that our deep rooted culture, history and traditions are nothing more than superstitions and pantheism! Because I can assure you they are far more than that!
I believe it is extremely important to teach our youth our culture and history otherwise these important parts of ourselves are lost forever…you must know where you came from to know where you’re going!
I agree education is very important, but education comes in many forms and the education of our heritage is equally important to the education provided in the public school system, which is by and large failing many youth, first nations and non-first nations alike, but that is another story.
I commend the Nelson family in their efforts to enrich their community and youth.
More Women Needed in Politics
Comment by Sylvia Stephens on 25th February 2011
Hi, Facebook friend, happy to say a few words on your behalf, I know that we need to get rid of the old, turn a new page, accountable and transparent governments are the goals that each Band Council should strive for.
We can keep our traditions while observing what is vital such as decent and affordable housing, employment, etc. we need more women in politics and this is the time, the time is now, no more family governments, keep up the good work and be heard, campaign until election day, reach the people and give them your values and vision!!