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Family celebrates ceremonial seating of chief
On a scorching summer Saturday, friends and family of Edgar Charlie (Hanuquii) gathered at the Thunderbird Hall to witness his seating as the head chief of Kelthsmaht.
Kelthsmaht traditional territory is on Vargas Island, in view of Tofino. Kelthsmaht is one of the several nations that amalgamated to form modern-day Ahousaht.
The rightful heir to the Kelthsmaht head chief's seat has been the subject of dispute amid the Ahousaht and neighboring communities for decades. Traditionally the seat would go to the eldest son of the chief; however, the direct heir unexpectedly died and no one was named as successor.
With no direct male heir to take the seat, cousins stepped forward to fulfill the role, creating controversy over how the issue should be settled.
After several years and meetings, it was decided to place the matter in the hands of the Elders, who selected Edgar Charlie as Kelthsmaht chief. He was instructed to immediately host a feast to take his seat.
On June 27 the first of the guests began to arrive in Ahousaht. The Makah paddled traditional dugout canoes from their home in Neah Bay, Wash. to honor an invitation made by Charlie for them to come to the event.
Charlie invited the chiefs on hand to witness the occasion and the other people of influence to sit in front and face a specially-adorned curtain while they waited for the ceremony to begin.
Later in the evening, Charlie would provide an explanation for what was on his curtain, saying it took seven years and several people to create. Charlie said the Kelthsmahts have no rivers so the curtain displays a strong ocean and whaling theme. A rainbow represents spirituality and the Creator. A thunderbird dominates the centre of the curtain. A canoe carrying seven men represents the sub-chiefs of the Kelthsmaht Nation.
"This curtain," said Charlie, "is my identification, and if you're Kelthsmaht, then it's your ID too."
Seated directly in front of the curtain and facing the guests were Ahousaht chiefs Corbett George, Billy Keitlah and James Swan. Louie Joseph explained that the ceremony was the highest form of law in their culture.
"Once done," he said, "it becomes unchangeable."
A singer chanted as dancers prepared the floor with eagle down. Charlie was seated among the chiefs in front of the curtain to the sound of mournful wolf whistling.
Louie Frank Sr. congratulated Charlie, saying he now must accept the responsibilities that a chief has for his people. The chiefs received an offering from Hanuquii for witnessing the event and the rest of the evening was filled with celebratory singing and dancing.
Holden David, a young man with connections to the McCarthy family in Ucluelet, was introduced to the gathering by Chief Corby George. He came to the feast to ask that he be given a name. George called forward witnesses and named the young man Naasii-sits, meaning "from God". Speaking on behalf of George, Hudson Webster said George and his family would treasure Naasii-sits and instructed him to come to Ahousaht from time to time to learn the songs.
The Makah joined in the singing and dancing with a paddle song. As the dance ended, each dancer laid their beautifully carved cedar paddles at Charlie's feet. Les Green of Neah Bay said Charlie wanted paddles, so his people were there to honor his request.
Makah whaler Theron Parker made a special presentation to the people of Ahousaht. Parker and his brother composed and performed a song they said is for the Ahousaht people to use.
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