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Tribute to the Late Dr. Chief Simon Baker Kirkness, Verna J. 2001

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---------------------------------- ;;.Clo/  A Tribute to the Late Dr. ChiefSimon Baker We will mourn the loss ofChiefSimon Baker for many years to come. Among the tears we have shed and the sadness that we feel, there is a profound sense ofcelebration, of deep gratitude for the privilege ofhaving shared in the life ofone so significant and so indescribably wonderful. On behalfofall who had the pleasure ofknowing your dear husband, Emily, I thank you and your family, for sharing him with us. Khot-la-Cha, the man with a kind heart, would want us to celebrate his life, to remember him now and in the years to come for his teachings, for the role he played in making our lives richer. Simon Baker was, as the Sechlet Nation described him, "an ambassador of his own culture and ofthe human spirit". There can be no higher calling than to follow the "natural law ofthe Creator". This Simon did, with the pride he had in being Squamish, in being Coast Salish, in being Aboriginal As an ambassador ofhis culture and the human spirit, he pioneered the revival ofcultural traditions and practices of our people in British Columbia and other provinces. I first met Simon in 1970 in Ottawa at the inaugral National Indian Cultural Conference. He described this conference as a breakthrough in recognition ofIndian culture. I remember the impact he had on all the delegates. He encouraged us to do whatever we could to deal with the loss ofour languages, our customs and our people's traditional ways ofmaking a living. He urged us to ta1k to our elders to learn our ways and to pass these teachings on to the younger generation. Long before this, in the late 40s, Simon was involved in cultural activities. He was the chairman ofthe Coqualeetza Fellowship Club, the first Indian Club organized in Vancouver. They put on pow-wows in the summer and invited dancers and drummers from BC and other provinces. He often spoke ofEiders, Mathias Joe, Isaac Jacob, August Jack, Louis Miranda, and Dominic Charlie, who helped them at that time. And ofcourse, his grandmother, Mary Capilano, was his lifetime teacher. Simon practised what he preached. We have often heard him say to young people, ''Go to your elders, speak to your elders, learn everything you can". That is what he did. When the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club became the Northwest Indian Cultural Association, he continued to be the chairman. Besides the pow-wows, they put on arts and crafts shows and banquets. During this same time he formed the Capilano Indian Community Club for local events. He was the chairman and Emily was the treasurer. This Club put on sports days and pow-wows. He ta1ked about this twenty year period, from the 40's to the 60's, as a time when people from different Nations learned to work together, as a time when they could showcase the various dances and exquisite regalia oftheir respective Nations. He felt it was also an opportunity for non-Indians to learn about our ways and to gain their respect. In his book, he said, "My idea was to promote our culture, our traditions, our songs. I wanted to teach our people so they could teach their children to know their identity, their grassroots. I want our people to have respect, pride and confidence". ...---~.. ---...-. Chief Simon Baker's ambassadorship extended to many parts ofthe world. Between 1965 and 1987, he did six tours sponsored by Canadian Airlines, Air Canada, the Canadian Government Travel Bureau, the Royal Canadian Air Force and others. On his first trip in 1965, he did a twelve-city promotional tour to West Germany. While he was sponsored to show people ofother countries that Canada was a great country to visit, he saw it as an opportunity to educate the people about Canadian Indians. He said, "I always wore my full regalia when I made my presentations, my buckskin outfit, feathered headdress, deer hooves. Sometimes I dressed prairie style and other times I wore my Coast Salish outfit decorated with paddles. I would speak my language first, then talk in English. I often did the snake dance and ended by getting everyone to do the deer dance, that Dominic Charlie taught me". Like many ofyou, I had occasion to do the deer dance many times. We will chuckle when we remember" KIa Hee!"and we woukljump as high as we could. At least that's what he wanted us to do. Following one ofhis visits to Germany, he wrote a letter to an eleven year old boy he had met there. The boy, Jens, replied. One ofhis bits ofnews was ''In my free time I like to play Indians. I go to the wood and make a teepee for me. But most ofthe white children cannot play really good Indians. I would be glad ifyour grandchildren were here or I could go to them". Simon's other travels took him to France, Spain, Holland, England, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. He said, ''I always say its good medicine to go out and meet people. I enjoy travelling". He made three trips to New Zealand and formed a very special bond with the Maori people. About them, he said, "As for the Mao~ they are like my brothers and sisters. I love their golden voices and all their beautiful songs. They have a strong spiritual belief in the Creator". I had the good fortune to be with him on the last two ofhis tours to New Zealand. These tours organized through the First Nations House ofLearning at UBC were to take a group ofFirst Nations people to study how the Maori were reviving their language by starting with the very young children. The loss ofour languages in Canada was a great concern to Simon, so he welcomed the opportunity to be our spiritual and cu1turalleader for these tours. As he said, ''I enjoyed visiting the Maori language nests and hearing little children speak their language". On his last tour with us in 1990, we also took in the second World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE). Simon was one ofthe main speakers. As well, he was happy to accept an invitation from his long time Maori friend, Te Rangi, to emcee the performance featuring the dances of indigenous people from around the world. Itwas appropriate that he should playa prominent role at this conference because he was instrumental in having the Squamish Nation host the opening day ofthe first WIPCE in 1987 at the site ofthe Capilano Longbouse. About these conferences, Simon remarked, ''the main thing was we had a chance to meet each other, indigenous people from around the world, to share our stories, our beliefs, to try to improve the education ofour children". These conferences were the beginning ofa tradition that would continue to the present. Simon Baker was, indeed, an ambassador ofhis own culture and ofthe human spirit. He gave free1y and generously ofhis time to help our people. He used to say, my name should be ABEL, because, I will do whatever I can while I am ABLE. He was asked to speak at totem-pole raisings, to speak at conferences and meetings or to open gatherings with a prayer and a welcome song, he was asked to sit on boards and committees, and to fundraise. He was not shy about asking for money for good causes be it in the millions from the government or putting out his drum or money tree at gatherings. All these he did while he was ABLE. Over the years, he was recognized for his contribution to his people and to the community at large. When asked about his awards, he would say, "Come and visit. Come and see my rumpus room". Here, one would see the many gifts, certificates, diplomas, and trophies that had been presented to him His awards include being made a lifetime member ofthe Native Brotherhood ofBC, an Honorary NITEP graduate, an honorary doctor of laws degree from UBC, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for culture and spirituality, the Brock House Senior Award and the Order ofCanada. He helped us so much at UBC, the Native Education Centre, Simon Fraser University, the Vancouver Indian Centre, various colleges and schools to name a few. Wherever he went, the students and staffenjoyed his presence because he had a lot ofknowledge and because he was so jovial He believed in laughter and happiness. He will be remembered as a man ofgreat wisdom, a man who would build you up when you are down, one who would console you when you were sad, one who believed in you, one who trusted you and one who loved you unconditionally. That was Dr. Chief Simon Baker, the husband, the father, the grandfather, the great­ grandfather, the great-great grandfather, the leader, the spokesman, the diplomat, the elder. That was Simon, the advisor, the teacher, the counsellor, the storyteller. ******************** Itwas a privilege for me to help Simon write the story ofhis life. The book, Khot-La-Cha - the Autobiography ofChiefSimon Baker, which was published in 1994 by Douglas and McIntyre, takes on a new significance with his passing. It ensures that his legacy will live on. When we were working on the book, he said, ''Iwould like to tell about my life, what I've seen, what I've done, so my grandchildren and their children will learn of things that happened in this last hundred years. I believe that my story will be interesting for schools. I know when I go to schools today, kindergartens or even high schools, the children like to hear about my life. They enjoy my songs that my elders taught me many years ago. I sing to them in my language and often I tell them the story ofmy people, using my talking stick". I I know that he would want you to have a copy ofhis book. The royalties from this book go directly to the Khot-La-Cha Scholarship at the University ofBritish Columbia given annually to an Aboriginal student whose research includes work with elders. This book can be purchased from the Khot-La Cba Art Gallery and Gift Shop in CapUano forS22.95. Telephone: (604) 987-3339 Fax: (604) 988-1930. It can also be obtained from General Distribution at 1-800-387-0172. Vema 1. Kirkness


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