Simon Lucas is remembered as a powerful advocate for his Nuu-chah-nulth people. He passed on Saturday, Sept. 16 in Port Alberni's West Coast General Hospital. (File photo)
A powerful voice for Nuu-chah-nulth culture and aboriginal rights has gone silent. Dr. Simon Lucas, Hesquiaht elder, passed away peacefully in the arms of his wife, Julia, on Saturday, Sept. 16, at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni.
Lucas was known for his impassioned speeches when fighting for the rights of his people. “I remain deeply touched with the passion and eloquence that Dr. Lucas used when advocating for the recognition and advancement of our rights, particularly our fishing rights,” said long-time friend Francis Frank.
Lucas was born Nov. 4, 1939. His wife Julia said their wedding was the last of the traditional marriages, meaning it was arranged by her father and Simon’s grandparents. It was a marriage that lasted 58 years producing six children and another daughter Simon had from a previous relationship. The couple have 62 grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
The Lucas’ were the go-to couple when it came to matters of culture and language. Linus Lucas said his father started working on rebuilding culture after the potlatch ban was lifted. “It was 1967 when there was a resurgence of cultural things; there were not a lot of potlatches going on,” said Linus.
Julia said her father Joe Titian gave Simon a drum and advised him to visit Hesquiaht elder Alex M. Amos because he knows a lot. For three months Simon sat with Amos and his son recording songs. They gathered people together to share the knowledge and practised the dances.
Lucas became politically active early on, starting with the West Coast Allied Tribes in 1958, working to increase the political influence of First Nations people.
Simon was also instrumental in the launch of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which started out as the West Coast District Council in 1973.
He was involved in the development of the various departments of the NTC including the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation, Usma Family Services, NTC treaty negotiations and the Nuu-chah-nulth fisheries court case.
In May 2002 the University of British Columbia bestowed an honorary title and degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of Lucas’ contributions to the university. In the application for the degree Lucas is described as a tireless advocate of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people working together to restore fisheries resources to once-thriving coastal communities. The application goes on to say that Lucas was declared an elder at the young age of 40, for his unique ability to draw people together for the common cause of rebuilding natural resources.
“Dr. Lucas was an inspiration to me early in my life as a leader,” said Francis Frank. “My fondest recollection is when he stood up and told then Prime Minister (Pierre) Trudeau that we too had gone for a walk in the snow,” he continued, referring to a remark Trudeau made about his decision not to run for office.
Hesquiaht Ha’wilth Vince Ambrose recalls how his late father Billy would visit Simon in Port Alberni during the 60's. When Ha’wilth Billy Ambrose passed away in 1983, it was Simon who was there to help the family with funeral arrangements.
“In 1987 Simon was at the forefront helping me prepare for my father's memorial potlatch and traditional Ha-wilth seating; he was instrumental in teaching me my traditional roles and responsibilities as a leader,” said Ambrose.
“Simon always spoke of our hereditary leaders and how our nation must never forget who they are,” said Ambrose. Though they had some political differences over the years, Ambrose said they always got things back on track.
“I remain deeply touched with the passion and eloquence that Dr. Lucas used when advocating for the recognition and advancement of our rights, particularly our fishing rights,” said Francis Frank.
Frank noted that he will always appreciate how Simon and Julia helped him with language, particularly when composing songs.
“Dr. Lucas left a strong legacy and was a key contributor to elevating how people and governments view the Nuu-chah-nulth,” he said. “I for one will be forever grateful.”
Long-time friend Dr. David Suzuki said Simon was one of his early mentors in his own education, in terms of the indigenous perspective. “I filmed him for a number of shows – he had that ‘everything is interconnected’ concept,” said Suzuki.
He went to say that he is grateful for all that Simon taught him. “Every time an elder is lost it’s a tragedy beyond comprehension; that indigenous knowledge cannot be duplicated. It is successful because it is based on thousands of years of trial an error,” said Suzuki.
“It was a privilege to know him and my hope is that the young people engage in learning the language in his memory,” said Suzuki.
A funeral service for Simon Lucas will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at the Alberni Athletic Hall at 11 a.m., followed by lunch at Maht Mahs.