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Adam the Teacher...

Kwaxsistalla, Clan Chief Adam Dick: A Eulogy


Dr. Doug Deur August 4, 2018

It is a great honour,

and very humbling

to speak here about my dear friend,

my teacher, Kwaxsistalla.


Clan Chief Adam Dick,   

the person who was so kind to me in so many ways

and was so kind to all of us here -

greeting most of us

now in this room,

in his home,

with great chiefly dignity and kindness.

Speaking to everybody at a level that they could be spoken to: 

Speaking to the children in a voice and in a language

that the children would understand.

Speaking to cultural specialists,

in a language they could understand. 

Speaking to educators from faraway places,

in a language they could understand. 


My time around Adam was a tremendous gift. 

A tremendous gift. 


And as many of you know, we almost lost him a long time ago.

It has been a quarter century since the doctors said he was already gone,

They thought he had passed,

And he proved them wrong!

The last 25 years of his life have been a tremendous gift. 

A tremendous gift to his family. 

A tremendous gift to the cultural world.

A tremendous gift to the whole world, in fact. 


And that gift:

I am reminded of that gift as I prepared,

with only a day or two to organize my thoughts

and my words

for this memorial. 


I started receiving messages,

condolences from people who knew

how much the Chief meant to me and my family,

and to my dearest friends and colleagues.


We received greetings from all over the world.

Greetings from people from Oxford, from the University of California-Berkeley,

from many other state schools in the United States,

from universities in many provinces across Canada. 

And that’s just the little piece,

the small part of the condolences that have come directly to me. 

Some people are getting quite a few more. 

We received word from non-profit groups,

big national, and international non-profit organizations,

expressing their condolences.

Ecotrust: a member of the family that founded that important organization is here,

just to honour and witness. 

And chiefs from all over the coast. 

I’ve received messages, condolences:

From Mojave, close to the Mexican border. 

From Tlingit.

From Athabaskan people close to the Arctic Circle,

who know and care very deeply about this –

about what we are doing here today. 


And just as my brother, my teacher, my friend Bill said to you:

You know Adam would be humbled.


Adam would say “I’m not an educated man,”

when people like me would come to ask questions,

and all the students, eventually,

who showed up with their notebooks

(notebooks that he discouraged -

which suggested maybe something wasn’t right with your mind

if you were using a notebook -

as if you couldn’t remember.) 


But, as we would show up at his door,

asking questions,

we would soon realize:

what a gift we were being given,

and that, in fact, every one of us had gained something from Adam.

At some level.

At the very level that we were prepared for. 


And that gift that we received

It was, in some ways, a gift not only from Adam,

but a gift from his ancestors. 


One of the things he always told us,

“when you honour me, you honour my teachers.” 

When you honour me, you honour my teachers. 

For all of us, Adam was an important teacher,

he taught us many things at different levels,

so we honour not only Adam,

but also his teachers. 


Many of you,

most of you here,

maybe all of you here,

know the story of Adam’s training as a child:

Taken away at age four. 

Isolated, for very focused training

Received from his grandfather and other chiefs,

who assembled just for this purpose

during the time of the potlatch ban.

During the crackdown,

during the period of the residential schools. 


They took him away,

so that he could not only hide

and avoid the terrible effect those schools might have on his life,

but so he could also learn

with very focussed attention,

for many years.

So he could hold and transmit key teachings across time. 

This kind of training was offered to ensure

that Adam would hold a great depth of knowledge

That, instead of being an uneducated man,

Whenever I was with Adam,

no matter where we might be together,

I would see:

He was always the most educated man in the room. 


Because those teachers put into Adam all their love.

All their care. 

And all their urgency.

Knowing that the culture had to survive. 

The values had to survive. 

The people had to survive. 

And if there was a way to do that,

you take children,

and you teach them well. 

Teach them in an honourable way. 

A traditional way. 


And so what Adam brought to us,

by listening very very carefully

and obeying all the rules

about how that information is to be used,

and not used,

he brought to us, in the present time,

a tremendous amount of information. 

For all of us,

And for all of the levels at which we were prepared to receive it.


And in the academic world that meant a lot. 

Starting three or more decades ago,

Museums began to call on Adam,

recognizing that he was one of the only people

who could identify the things in their collections,

things that had been gathered along this coast. 

Working with Myanilth his sister,

he would go out and look at things and say,

“Oh that’s a very specific mask,

This is our name for it.

This is why that matters, culturally, spiritually,

And this is the name of the clan and chief

who still owns the right to use that mask today.” 

He did this with the provincial museum,

but the Smithsonian museums,

and in museums in Europe.


Over time, 

Adam began to work with people –

Just one or two of us originally,

Not long after he had nearly crossed over,

on doctoral dissertations –


And Dr. David Lertzman, who is here today.

Adam worked in a focussed way with me,

and my dear friend Nancy Turner,

recording traditional plant knowledge

that only he could carry.

Because his teachers had always told him:

The teachings about the environment are important,

and in this time, for everyone’s sake,

some part of those teachings must be shared.


And, over time, he worked with others.

And there were friends who would just drop by and visit,

Bringing occasional mysteries to his door.

Here in the room we have one of those visitors,

Dana Lepofsky, an archaeologist. 

She could ask him about artifacts found on the coast,

and say “we archaeologists have been finding these for years.

We don’t really know what this is.

How did this work?”

And Adam would say:

“Oh yeah!

We call it this,

And my teachers showed me three different ways to make them.

I will make you one so you can better understand it.”

And, from materials gathered near his home,

he would make one perfectly.

He knew all about it

because he learned from his mother,

his grandmother,

his grandfather,

the clan chiefs

and all the other cultural specialists

who gathered together,

who worked with him in such a focused way

when he was a boy.


Adam had revolutionary effects,

talking with some of us about the traditional clam gardens,

the lokiway,

and how those gardens served to take care of the people.

We would say, “I see these unusual things in the tide flats,

And we don’t know what they are.”

And he would say to the researchers,

“Oh, let me tell you all about this!

I have a song I was taught about this,

by my grandmother,

she showed me how to do this.

To make these gardens,

To take care of them

so that we would never be hungry.”


I would ask him about the root grounds.

I remember looking at these root grounds

that looked like raised beds

sitting in the tide flats.

And although nearly all academics denied it at the time,

As a young person, I would say:

“Wow! Those root grounds look like someone built them.

Those are cultivated plots.

They aren’t natural.

Somebody made them.” 

I went to Adam.

I asked Adam, “what do you call those root plots in the flats?”

He said, “Oh, that’s takilakw!

Our word for them means,

‘They aren’t natural.

Somebody made them.’ “ 

I find that very validating Adam -

Thank you!


And so he would do this.

He knew these things,

because the ancestors had put that effort into him.

And as a young man he listened,

he listened very well

and very honourably.


And with that knowledge,

With those teachings imparted to him with great care and urgency,

Shared mindfully with the outside worlds,

These conversations began a revolution of a kind,

in the way that anthropologists and others think

about this part of the world.

You cannot go through an introductory anthropology class any longer,

talking about this part of the world,

without either hearing Adam’s words,

or encountering the words of someone

who has learned from this literature that Adam helped create.

It has become fundamental. 

His teachings on clam gardens, on root grounds,

And so much more.

Anthropologists say that that these represent “the new normal” now. 

Adam’s voice is being heard even now,

Traveling around the world. 


And Adam’s voice has helped shape the outcomes of land claims,

as the treaty process has been opened up

and people began to talk about these things. 

The Ancestors tried to make claims

100 years ago

on the clam beds,

on the root grounds.

And the government at the time said “no,

we don’t think you were sophisticated enough to do those things.”

Well now we have information,

and the archeology,

that matches exactly what Adam taught us.

And suddenly that process has changed,

Everybody is thinking about traditional land use differently.

And the teachings are actually affecting people’s lives

in interesting ways.

The effects often have been dramatic. 


Later in his life,

With the help of Nancy Turner and myself and Oqwilowgwa,

Adam invited groups of graduate students

from the University of Victoria

into his home to learn.

And Adam helped these studies with several master’s theses.

We called it “Adam’s School.”

And he would teach them about the specifics

of eel grass beds,

of crab apple groves,

of cultivated root grounds.

All of those things, all that traditional knowledge.

So that those things would be remembered and understood.

He continued to work just as hard

in his own community,

within the Kwakwak’wakw world,

on matters of great cultural importance.

Yet he shared with the outside world too:

those things that he was told

were okay to share.


So it is important to know

that the chiefs of his youth,

those who trained young Adam,

told him he must share.

They prophesized that he would:

That he would work closely,

That he must work closely,

with those from the outside.

From other Native nations

and especially with the non-Native world.

So they would all learn

“at a level they could understand,”

from the teachings of the Ancestors.

These spiritual and cultural leaders of Adam’s youth had a prophesy,

which I may share with you now:

That when Adam was an older man,

his words, his teachings,

would travel around the world like birds.


As a young boy,

living out on the land,

often alone with his grandparents,

living in a tiny plank house,

with an understandable wariness of the non-Native world,

He admitted to us:

He didn’t know what that meant.

Working with non-Native people?

His words flying around the world like birds?

To young Adam, their prophesy sounded kind of crazy. 


And these days I can go online:

The university can actually provide me with a map,

Showing where the articles are being downloaded -

the articles where we actually quote Adam at length,

where Adam is a co-author of an article or a book we developed together.

And it all lights up.

All Around The World.

Dots here, showing downloads in China,

Dots there, showing downloads in India,

Dots in Europe,

Dots in Africa. 

Through cables below the sea and the satellites above.

As we speak,

his words are truly flying around the world,

like birds. 


So it is an astonishing gift.

An astonishing gift –

again, from Adam,

but also from his teachers.

All of us here have received those gifts.

Like I say:

he gave out the gifts,

depending on who you were,

and what your abilities may be.

What your knowledge was.

What your cultural ‘security clearance’ might be.

And, taking all that into consideration,

He would teach you what you personally need to know.


And now that we have received that gift,

you all know the rules: 

You get a gift,

you have to reciprocate somehow. 

You have to do something

to give and gift back. 


We all owe Adam a lot. 

But remember: as he always told me,

when you honour him,

you honour his teachers. 

So you honour him,

but you honour his teachers too. 

So we carry forward those things that Adam gave us,

those things that Adam shared with us,

at our level.

And we carry those forward.

And, when instructed, we share those things,

So they may also live on,

When all of us here now are gone too. 


This is important.

The Ancestors knew:

They knew that Adam’s mission in this life

was not going to be finished

in his lifetime.

The mission is to keep the knowledge and teachings alive,

to keep the knowledge and teachings vital.

The mission is to be sure:

That we allow the knowledge of the Ancestors

to keep people balanced,

and healthy,

and safe,

and protected,

and well.

And so we do that.

We carry forward Adam’s knowledge,

and that can be part of our repayment

of his great gifts,

and those of his teachers.


This is part of what we can do

to honour this great legacy -

of a man unlike any I have ever met,

unlike any I will ever meet again. 



Thank you.