The Last of the Potlatch Speakers
Maxwxwadzi, Chief George Shaughnessy August 4, 2018
I am very honoured to be up here.
I had many teachers.
Adam was my main teacher.
I can name off Tony Hunt, Peter Knox, Frank Nelson, Wisage, Tom Willie.
I took a little from all of them but Adam was my main teacher.
I was with him for 31 years.
And growing up I didn’t know probably for the first 15 or 20 years of my life that Adam had so much knowledge about language and culture.
About the environment, about food gathering.
We just fished.
And it was a shock to me when I actually saw him first speak because growing up Adam was, Adam was Clink,
Adam was Crow, Adam was Dick,
Adam was Fran, he was so funny we just loved to be around him.
I never really thought too much about where did this come from?
In Adam’s mind, one thing I got out of him was protocol.
There are certain things we do, not just in our culture but in our lives, that have to be followed and I asked him, I never heard you speak before, where did that come from?
He said, I never was the main speaker until Jimmy Sewid passed away.
And I asked him what would have happened if you had passed away before Jimmy?
And he said then you would never have heard me.
Those were really powerful teachings that I first picked up.
And 31 years ago he was singing on a log and he called me over and he said come sit with me. And that was probably the first day that I said I want to learn more.
And those teachings weren’t just me, uh, my mom learned most of her language, her writings from Adam’s mother Anitsa.
And my mom just marvelled at Anitsa.
When my mom would walk into a room Anitsa would drop whatever she was doing and she would look at my mom and ask, what is it you want, what do you want to know?
You could always see that, how giving they were.
Adam always said my mom never owned anything she only carried it for the time when she was alive.
Mom passed away a few years ago I had asked her what am I going to do with all your writings, all your recordings, and she brought up a name, Trish Rossborough, Adigiluk’s granddaughter. My mom just loved her and that’s who, she said you’ll know what to do with it.
And when my mom passed away and we had to clean her house up we found mountains and mountains and mountains of writings and books and I turned that all over to Trish.
And so that’s just for me it’s really strong teachings.
What Anitsa’s told my mom is what Adam told me is the knowledge doesn’t belong to us.
We have to pass it on.
And for Adam, I just really had a good laugh this morning with Klink because I woke up at Kim’s and Klink was staying with us and I just really needed to hear because Klink is Klink.
He was telling stories and some of us, Verna and cousin Lydia was there and he was talking about holy water and these 2 guys were talking and they said how did they make that water holy?
And Klink said they boil the hell out of it.
And somebody, I posted it, and I said that’s just like Adam.
I just really needed to hear that this morning because the last few days we were just trying to get through the day.
I can’t even reflect on the 31 years of teachings, it’s not just language, it’s culture, protocol.
He actually brought me out to harvest cedar bark, and we did the clam gardens.
There’s just so much stuff that he knew, and he was always willing to share.
It was never, there was never any money attached or favours attached, he was always open, his door was always open and I just loved it.
And he was really a big part of my life and I just, I had some notes about some of the things that he really pushed.
He use to say: it’s not, I’m not telling you this, it’s not my opinion, it’s not what I want, it’s the rules we all follow.
We talked about the Islanders, he called them the Islanders, New Vancouver, Village Island, Turner Island, he said they all did things their own way, but we all followed the same rules.
The Kwagiulth people and we did our own thing in Kingcome because the river froze up and some of those other tribes couldn’t get up there to celebrate ceremonies with us.
And he said we’re all the same but we all follow the same rules.
My message was protocol.
That’s the thing that I really picked up on and I really learned a lot but those are the things that are really, live with me today.
I guess it hurt him when he got to a certain age and he couldn’t attend, he couldn’t go to potlatches and ceremonies and he couldn’t go and speak.
And we’d sit down and talk about what’s going on, who was hosting, and a lot of things we were talking about is um, one of the things I learned off Tony was we treat chiefs with respect cause they’ve earned that right.
They do so much for the families, whenever he would run into the chiefs that are sitting over here he would say Gilakasla gekume, gilakasla numyut.
He really held them close to his heart.
He said, I just wanna go over a few things that have been going through my head and I, Yvonne is here, Yvonne walked in, to Kim’s, and she just looked at me and she said wow, must be hard, must be like losing another father.
And I never really thought about that., it’s one of the, these things were important to Adam, and these were things that he talked about, he spoke about for the chiefs and I just wanted to throw these out, and things are kind of drilled in our heads that he would speak.
He always told me that the chiefs responsibility were to his family.
He said that gigikeme does not translate to chief.
He said it translates that you are from nobility.
He said it’s not a title, it’s a responsibility.
He always talked about protocol
He had so much respect when he spoke in Coast Salish territory
In any other territory he said you always thank the host and the owners of the land, he said if you don’t do that you’re in big trouble.
And he talked about hereditary chiefs, our clan chiefs
He said we kind of try and differentiate ourselves as hereditary to the elected system.
He said the hereditary is you’re the oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest son since the beginning of time.
Or sometimes he said the flood.
And one of the things we always talked about is marriages.
He said as a chief you’re born into a culture if you’re from that area you’re born into it you’re not given.
He said the only way you can add to your history is through marriage.
He always said you cannot touch anything on your mother’s side.
The only thing you can touch is what came over in marriage if your mother brought things over to your father that’s the only thing you can touch your mother’s side
One of the things he talked about was his role as a speaker.
He said if a host or a chief hired a speaker he’s the only one that’s allowed to speak because he’s speaking for the host.
He also talked about marriages as a big big part of our discussion about the chiefs wife,
When the chief passed away the chief’s wife would go back to her family and the chief’s son would take over and his son’s wife would take her role.
That’s something he talked a lot about and he always thought that was really important.
One thing he did talk about maybe a few months ago, he was telling me he was speaking for a family and they were trying to get him to talk about something and he said I can’t talk about that, that doesn’t belong to you.
I can’t because it’s not in your lineage, it’s not in any marriages he said I can’t talk about that because it doesn’t belong to you.
He also said the speaker has every right to tell the host he can’t speak about that.
You have every right to tell that host.
He also talked about the pa’sa and he marvelled at how incredible it was.
The system that was in place by our old people
It’s incredible when you sit there and talk to them and when something happens he knows how to fix things, there’s always a way to do things but he also said don’t be afraid to go into that arena and say or do something wrong, there are ways that we can work around it and fix it.
I just marvelled at that because I remember somebody fell at a potlatch and everyone was running around cleaning out their pockets looking for money to fix it
Adam said just sit down I’ll deal with it later and I remember, he stood Pat Alfred up and he stood up two chiefs and said they’re going to fix this at their next potlatch they’re going to do a thousand dollars each and
I just marvelled at that because those chiefs were giving money to the host anyway and Adam just put a name to it.
I just had to sit there and think- that was just incredible.
He also talked a lot about witnesses he said if you’re going to potlatch or feast he said you invite people and those are the ones that are going to remember what you just did, you pay them with money, gifts and food
I remember that we watched an old video of a potlatch, in the late seventies and Jimmy Sewid got up and he reminded the people you took the money, you took the gifts, you ate our hosts food, you cannot leave here and say he did things wrong later.
There’s just so much, so much that I learned, like the other speakers, he brought so much.
And for me he was always willing, always willing to teach if you were willing to learn.
If you were willing to learn he was willing to teach.
And for me that door was always open, anyway, by the phone, visiting
I could always phone him if I needed a word in Kwakwala he’d have it in 2 seconds.
That was his legacy is, isn’t what he did ii was his willingness to teach.
And your willingness to learn, he didn’t care who you were or where you were from if you were willing to learn he was willing to teach.
31 years is a lot I don’t even want to believe it, it seems like it was yesterday, it seems it was long.
I always think maybe 30 years, 31 years more and I would only learn a fraction of what he knew.
I just wanted to leave you with that
My part started with my mother and his mother Anitsa. And I just carried it on with Adam.
I guess growing up I didn’t know I was really closely related.
I know that Adam said Jimmy Dick called Arthur, Dave and all these uncles.
There’s that connection there and my mom Frieda and her mother Mary
Mary was a sister to his father Jimmy Dick.
And I really, I told Fred this a couple hours ago I remember Adam phoned my mom about 20 years ago and he said, what was your mother’s sister’s name?
My mom said I didn’t know my mom had a sister, and he said I know her Indian name I don’t know what her English name was.
So, I had to go to the archives and dig this information up but he did give me one clue, he said she married Jim King in a church and they had 2 kids and he remembers that she, her and her 2 kids disappeared and we don’t quite know what happened.
So those are my thoughts and Bill said how do you fix things and I said well, I guess it’s fairly easy if you know what to do and that’s just my part and my part is Adam’s willingness to teach and your willingness to learn and that’s my, that’s what I bring.
I really enjoyed those 31 years, whatever the family does from here I’m willing to do my part I’m really really really honoured to be here and just so grateful for Adam and for Michael and Charlie, Ruby, Nina, they all stopped me, recognized me
Adam always told us whenever you open your mouth make sure you have an ending
And for me there is no ending
I can’t stop thinking
I can’t stop writing what he taught.
Not just me
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