Wolf puppet from the Xv Commonwealth Game, Opening Ceremony, The Legend: Mary Kerr Photo 1994

About Adam...

Kwaxsistalla, Clan Chief Adam Dick: A Eulogy

William White, August 4, 2018

I’m going to open in this way and I’m going to help provide a context, a framework, in which others who follow me with their great words, will share their powerful memories of a man who is the most profound teacher in our generation. 

We will see no other person with his teaching, with his skills, with his knowledge, with his absolute powerful background as we have experienced for most of us in the past 25 years. 

Siem si yaya, siem

I’m going to share a story with you dear ones,

a story that is reflective of the great faith that our dear friend and teacher and father and relative had in terms of his view of the world. 

During my time at the University of Victoria I was responsible for protocol receptions. 

We initially started protocol work with Dr. Samuel Sam who over time became Kwaxsistalla’s cultural brother.

They were very close, shared moments together. 

Shared the old world. 

Shared what we should do. 

One time we had Sam come in as host because Kwaxsistalla  had been invited to bring his people, his singers in, to help honour our Kwakwaka’wakw graduates. 

In a short while, Kwaxsistalla gathered his singers, this is one of his greatest contributions, he said to his singers in Victoria, you don’t ever want to walk over the people whose territory you were on.

He said that all the time, never step over the owners of the territory.

Whenever he spoke, whenever he brought his rights and rituals into our territory, he asked me to speak for him, reciting that he must always recognize the owners of the territory. 

And this is the framework that I’m hoping we’re going to hear this afternoon. 

Adam as you know, was one of the most powerful longhouse speakers that we knew. 

Not only did he speak all the dialects of Kawakwala, he was the last potlatch speaker to use formal classical Kwakwala in the ceremonies he conducted.

He always said to us ‘I’m not very educated myself.

Yet he was the most powerful, educated man we ever knew.

We learned something with him every moment we sat with him. 

Kwaxsistalla spoke in front of his people, as we know, in formal classical Kwakwala that very few understand.

And in setting after setting, again and again he spoke in a regular Kwakwala to introduce himself to the people. 

And he always said I can’t brag about myself. 

I can’t talk about my greatness. 

I have to have a speaker do that for me. 

And that was kind of my job for him, when he was in our territory. 

So he spoke formal classical Kwakwala. 

I was standing next to him. 

For those of you who know, I don’t speak Kwakwala. 

Adam finished, then he turned to me, and he said ‘fix it up’.  (laughter)  ‘fix it up’. 

And then he walked away and so I had to.

Adam’s great gift is stories.

Rules and Regulations how do we treat each other. 

He always used to say if you hurt someone in the morning you have to fix it by the time the sun goes down. 

He said ‘fix it up’ so I had to remember what he did 3 or 4 times we spoke with him. 

I had to remember how he spoke to his singers and to his family to lay the rules for being respectful of each other all the time.

I had to remember at the family meetings, the community meetings, the meetings with his singers, the advice he gave to them very consistently and bring it together.

There is no other you will hear this from.

There is no other man who was so profoundly knowledgeable about our world. 

Every time he spoke he made the sacred visible. 

Every time he had people dance he made the sacred visible.

Every time he brought in his speakers, once again, once again, our ancestors came in the room because he called them. 

Because he applied the teachings. 

Old teachings of those who taught him. 

Of those who taught him.

He brought it forward again and again and again.

We were very lucky in our lives, especially those of you who travelled with him.

Us who will speak after him, through Kwaxsistalla, through Adam, we saw, we experienced, the sacred come into our world. 

We saw this at the Commonwealth Games, when the ancestors were brought in, when the poles moved again, when the sisiutl moved again.

During the Commonwealth Games I was standing with my nephew before all the puppets came in. 

When we were standing in that arena a wind came through.

On that sunny day was a cold wind. 


I said to my nephew, Nephew, remember this. 

Remember this.

You will never experience this again in your lifetime. 

Kwaxsistalla brought in the ancestors. 

He brought in the ancestors to greet the world. 

That was the nature of our dear friend.  To greet the world…

Dear ones, one last thing, we were working frantically to make notes for this eulogy.  All the computers broke down. 

We couldn’t write and so we thought we have to apply Kwaxsistalla’s teachings as we know he never worked from notes, he worked from memory. 

A vast, vast memory that is unheard of in our world today. 

Every time we were with him he told a new song, a new story. 

Whenever we went to visit him, the first thing he said, I don’t know he must have done this to everybody.  The first thing he said was ‘you are like the frost, every time the sun comes up you’re gone’.  I said to myself, what he means is ‘I love you and I’m glad you’re here’. 

And I had to say that to myself all the time. 

I love you and I’m glad you’re here. 

Dear ones, there’s so much we can say about our dear friend Kwaxsistalla, again, he knew he taught us every time he sang, every time he prayed, every time he visited, the sacred was made visible.

His talk was sacred. 

His laughter was sacred.

His joking around was sacred and he treated you with immense respect. 

Immense respect. 

Before we close this session there are a couple of notes, because he did influence the people including the royal family and all the prime ministers at the commonwealth games and he talked about his ancestry there are notes to read after all the people give their eulogies.  It’s been such an honour to be with this man. 

We will never know greatness as much as we have with him.  Thank you.