PORT HARDY—Wakas Hall was filled with song and story last weekend as the community hosted a two-day feast to commemorate 50 years since the relocation to Tsulquate.
Part reflection, part celebration and part community healing, the event served as a forum for a stark look back at the Nations’ forced move from their homelands in 1964 and the struggles endured since. But there was also a hugely positive feel to proceedings as the community took stock of its strength and tenacity and looked to the future.
As MC Charles Willie noted Sunday, “As it was yesterday, we acknowledge all the struggles that the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw went through and at the end of the night we celebrated that survival. Today we celebrate your living — all your accomplishments since relocation: education; children coming back to their families from care; people going out and getting an education and coming back and working with our people.”
In the early sixties the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw were encouraged to move to Tsulquate from their homelands with the promise of new housing, education and medical care.
On leaving, village sites were burned to prevent the people returning.
They arrived at Tsulquate to find a handful of unfinished houses without proper moorage or running water.
“You couldn’t describe it,” said hereditary chief Hiłamas Henderson. “A few houses with additions on additions.” He recalled people “strung out all over the floor” of the houses while others bunked down in boats beached in the river. “Our lives turned from day to night; we left our ground, our traditions, our culture, our identity in our homelands.
“The township of Port Hardy didn’t want us. Every person we bumped into asked us what we were doing there, they wanted us to go back where we came from,” he said. “That was really heartbreaking.”
Various speakers across the weekend spoke of the effect the relocation had: the impact on language and culture, struggles with alcoholism and the suicide of community members. Time and again community leaders offered support to anyone struggling with addiction or thoughts of self-harm.
Along with confronting its wounds, the community celebrated its successes and growth. Several highlighted the school and the growth of cultural programs. One of Sunday’s highlights was Tristan Swain’s powerful and positive rap on the relocation which received a standing ovation.
Sunday also saw the Chiefs acknowledge the Kwakiutl, who facilitated the move to Tsulquate — originally a campsite for Kwakiutl clam diggers — by presenting a carving to representative Harry Humchitt.
“Last two days it’s been amazing what we’ve done,” said Chief Paddy Walkus. “We’ve put a lot aside but we need to keep pushing… we have to maintain our cultural values.”