Christy Clark has a new name and her government has a new $1.25 million protocol agreement with the Ahousaht First Nation
Clark was honoured during a blanketing ceremony at Ahousaht’s Lone Cone Campground on Friday.
The ceremony was held as part of a major partnership announcement between the province and the First Nation that will see the provincial government provide $1.25 million over the next five years to help Ahousaht develop an economic diversification action plan.
Ahousaht councillor Cliff Atleo commended B.C.’s premier for her “willingness to hear our voices on our land,” and said she had earned the name Cha-chum-wha, which means ‘One Who Speaks Meaningfully and Truthfully.’
“It very much captures the importance of understanding how speech and words, once you deliver them, you can’t take them back. Part of our teaching was to have us understand that you always be careful with what you say, always be careful how you say and to exercise, as much as possible: respect, honesty, integrity,” Atleo said.
“Cha-chum-wha means to say things in an appropriate way with honesty and integrity knowing that, once it comes out, you can’t take it back. So take care, Cha-chum-wha.”
Clark thanked Ahousaht for their warm welcome, particularly the community matriarchs who each stood in support of her new name and witnessed her blanketing.
“I know the job of a witness is to remember and to carry on the story of what happened here today and I hope that, as you carry on that story, you include my reflection that I am so profoundly honoured today to have been blanketed and named in this community,” she said. “This honour today connects me forever to this community but, I should admit, my prior connection is deep, at least for a non First Nations person.”
She explained her great grandparents settled on Stubbs Island in 1880.
“After many, many, thousands of First Nations children had been born there over millennia, my grandfather was the third non First Nations baby to be born in the community,” she said.
“He was delivered, undoubtedly, by an Ahousaht midwife. He went into the fishing industry that his father had learned and learned about the Coast from Ahousaht fisherman. His brothers were delivered by Ahousaht midwives. Their health was preserved and looked after by the people of this Coast, your ancestors who have lived here for millennia. I am here today because they survived and they thrived; I don’t know if I would be without the Ahousaht community having been such an integral part of my family’s past.”
She said the $1.25 million economic action plan would help Ahousaht develop a strong and sustainable economy.
“In addition to this deep honour that I’ve been offered today, we also celebrate a protocol agreement over five years that will support us in working together to create more jobs and sustainable development for members of the Ahousaht community,” Clark said. “To work in partnership to diversify the economy according to the standards of sustainable development that are set down in the fundamental values of the Ahousaht people.”
She added the partnership could include renaming geographic features.
“Perhaps Meares Island will no longer be known by Meares Island for very much longer and we will learn from this unique agreement how we can expand agreements like this to First Nations around the province,” she said.
Clark was joined at Lone Cone by B.C.’s Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad.
“It is truly an honour to be here and I want to start, of course, by thanking everyone, the hereditary chiefs and the elders, for such a great welcome and for the honour that you’ve bestowed upon our premier. It is truly a memorable event and, I think, it’s something that really stands out,” Rustad said.
“Over the next five years we will embark on a path for how we can help build together [and] how we can try to share and support one another in support of this agreement…I look forward to the work that we have in front of us; it’s a tremendous amount, but it is one that we take on with great pride and pleasure.”
Ahousaht hereditary chief Shawn Atleo said the blanketing ceremony was a significant step forward for Ahousaht and the provincial government.
“It’s really a joyful moment. These moments don’t come along too often; to be offered a name with the witnesses of the matriarchs, the ladies who guide our peoples,” he said.
“The name Cha-chum-wha is carrying that sentiment about encouraging somebody forward and this moment is so significant in the history of our relationship between us as First Nations and the world around us.
“It’s very important and it’s instructive about where we’re going into the future…We’ve inherited the history of this very place that was a residential school that caused so much harm and division and hurt and now look at the people enjoying themselves in the beautiful sunshine on the shores where our ancestors always resided.”
He said the new protocol agreement could lead to renewable energy projects that would bring both jobs and reliable power sources.
“When I was a little kid, we used to play around our houses and there would be diesel fuel seeping up from the tanks and the vision of having clean renewable energy that could power our homes to make sure that our fish don’t go bad when the power goes out in the winter,” he said. “We’ve not had reliable power throughout the course of my short time around so that’s an aspiration of ours, to create employment and opportunities [and] to do it in a sustainable, clean way.”
He added he had spoken to Clark about bringing back an Ahousaht artefact that he said had been taken about 130 years ago.
“It’s sitting in a museum in Boston at Harvard University; it’s called the Atleo Pole. It’s still there,” he said. “That’s our heritage. Now it’s sitting in Boston in the United States and I say it’s time for the Grandpa Atleo Pole to come home.”
He said Clark was committed to bringing BC’s First Nations artefacts home and commended her for creating a strong partnership with the Ahousaht community.
“It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of partnership. But, we are in the era of reconciliation,” he said.
“I’m excited about this time in our history. We’ve inherited great challenges but we’re up to all of them so the future will look bright for our grandchildren and our great grandchildren…We’ll do this in partnership with people like Cha-chum-wha and her ministers and cabinet.”