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REPORTING · 24th February 2011
Merv Ritchie
As the local First Nations communities continue on their struggles to regain pieces of their lost heritage and background, one local First Nation has fallen behind all the others. From all regions of the Sacred Circle, the Haida, the Tahltan, the Wet’sew’weten, the Gitksan, the Tlinglit, the Nisga’a and the Haisla, all have traditional ceremonial events and dancers. Even among most Tsimshian, the Kitselas, the Gitga’at, the Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and more, traditional expressions of their ancestral heritage is honoured, respected and practised. That is all except the Kitsumkalum.

This is the very reason expressed by Cynthia Wunderlich, a Nelson family daughter, for running in the upcoming Band election. She and other Nelson family members are putting their names forward to run in the upcoming election.

“I keep watching all the other communities perform their cultural songs and dances and wonder what happened to mine? I moved away as a teenager and returned in my late 30’s to find my community seems to be neglecting the hereditary system of our culture.” she explained, “There are many within our band now who are not even Tsimshian, let alone from the Kitsumkalum Nation.”

It is this singular issue that has inspired Cynthia to put her name forward and encourage her family to step up to the plate to bring back their culture and traditions from the past.

Cynthia is the daughter of Maxine Nelson and Gunter Wunderlich. Maxine, the one time Beauty Queen in Prince Rupert (1960’s), is the daughter of Dave and Priscilla Nelson and sister to Lloyd Nelson who Cynthia also encouraged to join in the effort to change the course of the Kitsumkalum Nation. Priscilla, Lloyd and Maxine’s mother, is also the Aunt to current Chief Councillor Don Roberts and Sister to Don Roberts Sr. It is a small and tight knit family among the Kitsumkalum.

The failure of the Kitsumkalum to rebuild their heritage, to reinvigorate their culture, is no ones fault. Many have made efforts to maintain the cultural persona including Chief Robert’s mother who continues to use her standing in welcoming ceremonies.

“We must respect everyone who took the time and made the effort to hang onto the remnants of our heritage for the youth and our future.” stated Cynthia as she reflected on the work ahead, “Our job now is to groom our youth, the future Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs, for the road ahead. We are facing many important decisions and plans, which will be affecting our community for generations and we need to have a foundation of strength to address all of these issues.”

The Kitselas First Nation, who have had great success under the guidance of Chief Glen Bennett, recently raised a number of Crest Poles and a new Totem in the Village of Gitaus. One of the Crest Poles raised was for the House of Guam. This has raised some eyebrows as the significance of this house has roots in the highest levels of the Tsimshian culture. Lloyd Nelson, a candidate for a Council seat at Kitsumkalum, is in the place to take the high position as a Hereditary Chief of the House of Guam, a Raven tribe being the highest house in the Tsimshian Nation. He has refused, however, to claim this position as the tradition, the hereditary culture, requires a feast and celebration prior to the bearing of the name associated with the claim. Lloyd respects this tradition.

More Nelson family members are putting their names forward to assist in reviving the Kitsumkalum Nation. Todd Nelson is Cynthia’s cousin and along with Michelle (Missy) Nelson, her second cousin and Diana Guno, (nee Nelson) completes the 5 member team of Council candidates who hope to bring change and dignity to the Kitsumkalum Nation.

Housing and membership are also areas of concern for this group of new candidates. Watching the elderly passed over for housing opportunities when non-original Kitsumkalum have more than one home is troublesome as is seeing new band members adopted while children of Kitsumkalum parents are denied status. Some of these issues are being addressed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada while others need to be addressed by the Band Council.

The Kitsumkalum Nation is small and has been granted reserve lands just west of Terrace. Considering this Nation owned and harvested from the entire region, bordered roughly from the Terrace Arena west to points north and south, the footprint of their reserve lands seems insignificant.

The Nelson Family has even more significance to the foundation of Terrace. George Little met with the Nelsons in 1905 as he attempted to stake his claim in the region. Emma and Charles Nelson were the first people to greet George Little when he arrived in the area. It has been reported they rescued George as he struggled to survive during his first year at a location near to where the old Skeena River bridge is located though there is no way to confirm the claims. Emma and Charles are the parents to Dave Nelson, the father and grandfather to this new team of candidates for the Kitsumkalum people.

February 28 is the day when all Kitsumkalum are eligible to vote for their new Council and Chief. It remains to be seen if the band members decide to venture on a new course or continue on the current journey away from the historical culture.