May 25, 2008

Chief Kiapilano and the Squamish™ Nation

Yesterday at around 10:30 Gerald Johnson, who calls himself "Chief Kiapilano" went to the Squamish Nation band office trying to "evict" the elected band council and the staff at the office.  I'm told he was joined by a few other protestors, most of which are non-Skwxwu7mesh.  I am unsure of how many were Skwxwu7mesh, but I think it was just a few.  I also heard reports he was joined by Kevin Annett.

For the past while Gerry Johnson has been going by "Chief Kiapilano", claiming to be chief of all the Squamish people.  He says it's his birthright and that he is the head chief.  A few weeks ago him and a few others tried to evict numerous church's in Vancouver for being on "Squamish Nation Territory".   He also likes to be known as "Royal Hereditary Sovereign Chief Kiapilano".  I also heard reports of him trying to evict newspaper reporters/writers who wrote articles about his friend Kevin Annett.

I am Skwxwu7mesh, a "band-member" of the "Squamish Nation".  I grew up on in two Skwxwu7mesh villages, Xwmelch'stn and Eslha7an in North Vancouver, British Columbia.  I've also studied the history of my people in regards to the hereditary chieftainships, but by no regards consider myself an "expert".  I've just been able to deduce a few things and understand the complexity of the situation.

I've reported on my blog a few times about the hereditary chieftainship system.  A shorter explanation is that the hereditary chieftainship system was originally created by the Catholic Church to convert the mass population in the numerous communities and villages.  Historically, my people were not that stratified and organized in it's political system.  Prior to contact, each family had a "siyam", or a respected person.  This was not a "bossman" or "chairman" like position, but simply someone who was respected by the community and people followed because of the character this person had.  Their status among the community could be raise through a few ways like, distribution of family wealth in potlatching, conduction of spiritual ceremonies, or display of cultural values and principles.  August Jack Khatsalano, a "siyam" born in the late 1800's, and died in the 1970's, was regarded as one.  He potlatched a lot during his time, passed on the knowledge of our ancestors, and conducted mask and spiritual ceremonies in our longhouse.  He said in his book "Converstations with Khatsalano", siyam means a person who is "...the best talker - not chairman, (our people) have no chairman -- but man who says the most wise things".

To what I mentioned earlier, the Catholic Church went around creating "chiefs" over each of the villages.  Later after the passing of the Indian Act and the designation of the reserve, the Indian Agents assigned a chief to each of the reserves.  This is where the current "hereditary chiefs" come from.  They are chiefs of the different reserves in Skwxwu7mesh territory.  In 1923 these hereditary chiefs signed the amalgamation and became a single "Squamish Band" or "Squamish Nation".  I will point out, it wasn't black and white.  Many of these hereditary chiefs were in fact siyam.  They followed our traditions, practiced our ceremonies, and lived strong indigenous lives, but at the time the government would only listen to the band council and so many bought into it.

In the 1980's, a non-confidence vote occurred on the corrupt band council of the time.  For decades the band council was hereditary, but changed in the non-confidence vote and the election codes were changed to create a 16 elected band council.  This is the current governing system of the Squamish Nation.  16 elected band councilors for the 16 hereditary chiefs.  A few of the hereditary chiefs have positions on the elected band council.

Gerry Johnson is not a hereditary chief.  Nor is he a siyam.  He has never once given a potlatch, in distributing his family wealth to the people.  He has never once had a ceremony to take on this name he claims.  He does not work with his people.  He does not have the support of any of our elders.  The "hereditary" position could belong to his family, but birthright and living by our custom are both needed.

He claims to be chief of all the Squamish Nation, but no where in history of my people has such a title or position existed.  There has never been a singular chief of all the Squamish Nation.  16 chiefs, for each of the villages, and before that, multiple chiefs for each of the longhouses in the villages.

Although I don't support the band councils way of governance, Chief Kiapilano's claims are false.  He cannot "evict" who ever he wants.  He cannot go around demanding authority for some birthright he may or may not have title too.  He is simply another Skwxwu7mesh fed up with the current status quo of politics with my people.


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