Historic transfer of Kelsmaht chieftainship from father to son

By Denise Titian, December 2, 2015

Queentna Raymona Charlie, Hanuquii Nate Charlie, son Ciih-meek Christian, Kwat-tsok Edgar Charlie, Wickaninnish Cliff Atleo, and Hudson Webster.

Photos by Denise Titian

Victoria — 

Guests of Ahousaht’s Charlie family gathered at the Esquimalt Longhouse on Nov. 28 to witness an historic event; the transfer of a chieftainship from father to son.

Chief Hanuquii Edgar Charlie said he has serious health issues and would normally have hosted his potlatch in home territory at Ahousaht, but his failing health requires that he stay in Victoria. The Chief of Esquimalt, Sinopun (Andy Thomas) was allowed the Charlies to conduct their very important business in his nation’s long house.

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The day started with lunch served by the Charlie family as Ahousaht singers sang a rousing dinner song. Wickaninnish (Cliff Atleo) welcomed the people. He said it was an honour to be there speaking on behalf on Hanuquii and his family.

“My father always said we need to hang on to the hereditary chief system because it is from the Creator. It is not man-made,” said Atleo. He went on to welcome the people to the land of the Lekwungen, “who have been gracious enough to let us do this very sacred event here.”

The guests were invited to move to the long house to witness the ceremony, speeches and festivities. Outside the temperature was below zero; inside the wooden structure was warmed by two large, open fires. Guests bundled in blankets on benches that lined the walls. Upholstered chairs were provided for the most senior elders.

The first order of business was the cleansing of the floor. Singers drummed and chanted as dancers dusted the four corners of the floor with eagle down. Atleo said this was done in order to protect all that were taking part in the ceremony that they may stay safe while there and on their way home.

Ta’ilthma was offered to guests who recently suffered losses in their families. Each was wrapped in blankets from the hosts followed by hugs from Charlie family members.

The floor was then open for visitors wishing to address the Charlie family.

Brian Tate of Ditidaht stood with his mother and sisters to talk about their connection to the Charlie family. “Edgar called my grandfather, Henry, uncle and so the Charlies are our family,” he said. 

The Tates are mourning the loss of their father but promise they will stand up in 2018 to celebrate his life. Tate says they have many connections to Kelsmaht and Ahousaht.

“My family and I stand here today with a little bit of help for your celebration,” said Tate before handing gifts over to the hosts.

Isobelle Clutesi said she comes from Tseshaht and Ahousaht. “Edgar and my mother Marion are siblings so that makes Nate my brother, according to our teachings,” she explained. Her family stood with her as she congratulated the new chief.

A group of Nisqually people travelled from south of the border to honour Hanuquii’s invitation. They talked about their love for canoe journeys and met many Canadian friends that way.

“We cherish our traditional ways. Our young people continue to fight to carry on our traditions,” they said before presenting each of the Nuu-chah-nulth chiefs with gifts.

Hesquiaht Tyee Ha’wilth Kathleen Andrews stood with her children, grandchildren and with Chief Andrew Thomas. They said they were one family and were thankful for the invitation and grateful to witness such an historic event.

Ed Mack stood with his family and fellow Chief John Tutube. He told the people that his sister Gina was very sick and his family hosted a celebration of life party for her which the Charlies attended.

“It uplifted her spirits and, well, it worked,” said Mack, adding that his sister heard some good news from her doctor last week. “We believe good things happen through prayers and positive energy,” he said.

Following dinner break, dancers came out signalling the beginning of the transfer of chieftainship from father to son. The room was smoky and the air filled with dust as the dancers shuffled barefoot across the dirt floor. When the chanting stopped, Nate Charlie was escorted across the dance floor by two men who were representing Thunderbirds. They delivered him to his father who removed his chief’s hat and placed it on his son’s head. He went on to remove his vests and wrapped them around Nate, ‘dressing’ as the new Chief.

Wickaninnish announced the new names of family members, which usually happens at such significant events.

Edgar gave his Chief name, Hanuquii, to Nate; and Edgar himself was renamed Kwat-tsok. Nate’s wife Raymona is now the Kelsmaht hakuum (queen) and her name is Queet’na. Their 13-year-old son Christian was named Ciih-meek.

Edgar Charlie said Hanuquii and family will have to go home to let the muschim know what happened in Victoria. There will be important and sacred ceremonies that can only be done at their home territory.

He went on to say that he thinks some people thing being a chief is all fun. “But when you’re a chief you don’t think for yourself; you have to think about your people and you have to do for your people,” he said.

He went on to advise his son to be strong of mind. “Always try to think positive,” he told Hanuquii.

The new chief will host a celebration in Ahousaht to complete the transfer business. It will take place in early 2016, the date to be announced.

From the family:

Thank you to the chiefs and elders that came to support and hahoopa (teach) what it is that a chief has to do for his people. We thank all who came from near and far to witness and to share your wisdom. Thank you to the speakers, security men, singers, dancers and cooks.

From Hanuquii (Nate Charlie), Queet-na (Raymona Charlie) and (Edgar Charlie).