Sam Chester sings during a memorial potlatch for Carla Webster in Ahousaht on Saturday, Oct. 7. (Denise Titian photos)
Four years after a motor vehicle accident claimed the lives of Carla Webster, 29, and two of her dear friends, the Swan family honored the memory of their daughter at a memorial potlatch held Oct. 7 at Ahousaht’s Thunderbird Hall.
Carla was a well known and loved young woman in her community who enjoyed spectator sports and travel. She loved all young children and worked as a preschool teacher in Ahousaht.
She had been at the Alberni District Fall Fair in September of 2013 and was on her way home that Sunday, Sept. 8 with two passengers, Arlene Titian and Edward John, when her car veered off the windy highway, rolled and burst into flames. All three died in the accident; their family and friends devastated at the loss.
The John family held a memorial potlatch for Arlene and Edward in Campbell River the following year.
The event started at 10 a.m. with a packed house as people were seated in the old traditional style of women on one side of the hall and men on the other. Elder John Hudson Webster stood in front of the Swan ceremonial curtain to perform a prayer chant. Hosts Luke and Melinda Swan and their three adult children stood with Webster to welcome their guests.
Elder Louie Frank Sr. spoke on behalf of the hosts. He thanked the people for coming to pay their respects to their daughter, Carla. “This is about Carla, we are releasing her and we pray that she may rest in peace,” said Frank. He said she had many relatives and was never one to seek the spotlight. “She only wanted to help people, especially the younger ones and the ones she loved,” he added.
Carla, he explained, came from a Manosaht family, which is part of Ahousaht. Luke’s brother Uukwa qum (James Swan) holds the set for Manosaht.
Frank introduced the Swans, Louie’s and others, explaining that they are all connected to Manosaht. This is an important part of Nuu-chah-nulth culture because it demonstrates that we know who we are and we know where we come from, said Frank.
Melinda Swan, her voice quivering, also thanked her guests for accepting their invitation. She asked that no videos or cameras be used during the dancing. “Put it right here,” she said, gesturing to her temple.
She said that they waited four years to do this, because they had so many people to thank. “So many people were here to help us through some very dark days,” she said.
The hosts started the potlatch with special gift presentations. Gifts are usually given at the end of a potlatch but Luke said they were going to do it differently because they knew the potlatch would be a long one and some of their guests would have to leave before the end.
They called upon Chief Councillor Greg Louie, Russell and Martha Taylor, Terrence Sabbas, Karen frank, Patsy Mack, Hilda John, John Campbell, Michelle Campbell, Devin and Daphne Robinson, Harold Little, Bibianna Ancheta and Harvey and Doris Robinson to receive special gifts. These were the people that came immediately to stand by the family’s side, comforting them after they received the terrible news of the accident.
The family performed the Yahts Yatsa, a song and dance meant to indicate the releasing of the spirit and the drying of the tears. Still, there were tears at the end of the dance.
“Those are not sad tears, those are tears of joy that we had her in our lives,” said Louie Frank. “Our ancestors would say be thankful for the time we had her and thank the Creator for her life,” he added.
“Grief is now over and it’s time to show gratitude,” said Luke. He and his son Luke Jr. presented carved wooden box rattles to cultural leaders Joseph George Sr. and Wally Thomas, thanking them for their cultural guidance.
The hosts performed dances from both sides of the family for most of the day before the floor was opened to guests wishing to make presentations to the Swans. Special presentations carried on throughout the night, ending at 10 a.m. the following morning.