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A mother’s anguish transforms a painful history
07-06-2015, 01:22 PM
Post: #1
A mother’s anguish transforms a painful history
This is the start of a series about the Qayqayt First Nation’s journey of discovering and reigniting a lost culture and history. Chief Rhonda Larrabee and the Qayqayt community are working with Urban Matters to reimagine a potential physical space for Qayqayt, the only First Nation in B.C. without a current land base.

In her early 20s, Rhonda Larrabee set out to fill in some gaps about her family that always felt mysterious to her. Although she believed what she was told about her Chinese-French heritage, she sensed there was more to the story. Rhonda constantly questioned her mom about her family, but the questions were evaded.

Until one day, when she approached her mom, Marie Bandura-nee Joseph and asked for her parents’ names and where they came from in order to create a family tree.
After 24 years with a buried history, Rhonda’s persistence worked and Marie opened up to her: “I will tell you once. Don’t ask me again, don’t talk about it,” Rhonda says, recalling her mother’s words. “And then she sent my dad and my brothers out of the house — told them to go to the park. And she told me her story.”

Amidst an outpouring of tears, Rhonda learned her mother had been sent as a young orphan to a residential school in Kamloops where she was punished for speaking Halq’eméylem, her native Coast Salish language.

Rhonda grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown believing she was half-Chinese from her father’s side, and half-French from her mother’s side. At 24, she learned her mother had hitchhiked to Chinatown after high school with her older sister, Dorothy. The sisters resembled people of Asian descent, so they blended in unnoticed.

Rhonda struggled with whether to act on her urge to discover her past once she realized how much pain prevented her mother from talking about her roots. “Then I never did speak about it again. I never asked her any more questions,” Rhonda says.
In 1985, Marie passed away and Rhonda felt lost without her. She also felt sadness, knowing her mom bore a painful sense of shame about her ancestry.

“She lost her language. She lost her culture. She lost her family at residential school. She lost everything,” Rhonda says. “She made a good life for us. I’m so proud of her and I just want her to be proud of where she came from.”

A few years later, Rhonda told her father she wanted to learn more about her mother’s family. He encouraged her: “He said, ‘Do it. Make her proud. You can do it.’”

In 1994, after 13 months of waiting, digging for legal documents and many exchanges with what was then known as the federal Indian Affairs and Northern Development Department, Rhonda received her Indian status card. Her family— her three brothers, her kids and nieces and nephews — was ecstatic.
“I was just so emotional when I got my card. I felt like I was part of Mom,” she says.

“And that was my goal of getting my status — to feel close to where my mom came from, her roots.”

Shortly afterwards, Rhonda’s three brothers acquired their status cards and gradually the Qayqayt (pronounced ka-kite) community grew. A band council election was held and Rhonda was elected chief of the Qayqayt First Nation, also known as the New Westminster Indian Band.

January 2014 marks the 20-year anniversary that Chief Larrabee received her status card. As fulfilling as that moment was, Rhonda quickly realized it was just the beginning. By receiving her status, Rhonda single-handedly reinstated the Qayqayt First Nation, which previously had no known living members. Her aunt and uncle were on the band list, but were now deceased.
Rhonda’s phone started ringing as the news about her spread. People were asking if she was going to file a land claim or request fishing or water rights.

She was faced with a pressing question: “What do I do? Do I just ignore everything and carry on?” Rhonda asks, recalling her dilemma. But of course, Rhonda couldn’t stop there.

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07-06-2015, 01:23 PM
Post: #2
RE: A mother’s anguish transforms a painful history
Chief Larrabee embarks on a journey of self-discovery and unearths forgotten lives, culture

This is the second part in a series about the Qayqayt First Nation’s journey of discovering and reigniting a lost culture and history. Read Part 1, Reclaiming Roots: A mother’s anguish transforms a painful history.

When Rhonda Larrabee received her Indian status card as a member of the Qayqayt First Nation (also known as the New Westminster Indian Band) nearly 20 years ago, her phone rang off the hook.

She began hearing from all sorts of people, including other First Nations leaders. She received calls about fishing rights and other things to which she was entitled but hadn’t been on her mind at all. She simply wanted to reconnect with her ancestry after growing up believing she was of Chinese-French descent.

One of the most impactful calls she received was from a Squamish First Nation woman working for the Katzie First Nation. She asked Rhonda, “Do you know the responsibility of you being reinstated into this band?” Rhonda replied, “Well, no.”

She and her brother, Ron, met with the woman and were overwhelmed after a three-hour conversation.

Conducting research with her husband, Bryan, Rhonda began to understand the Qayqayt history. “There were 400 people who called themselves Qayqayt village. And they were displaced and they were stricken with a smallpox epidemic. Now it’s like they never existed,” Rhonda says. “They shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Rhonda, who is now chief of the Qayqayt (pronounced ka-kite) First Nation, became the first documented person of the First Nation since the New Westminster Indian Band was placed on the Inactive General List of Reserves in 1951. Her mother, Marie Bandura-nee Joseph, was a member of the last family to live one of the three former Qayqayt reserves — a 22-acre piece of land near the current site of Kruger Paper in New Westminster, B.C. The other reserves were on Poplar Island, which was their traditional burial ground, and 104 acres of land on the south banks of the Fraser River, which was then called the South Westminster Indian Reserve and is now called Bridgeview in Surrey, B.C. The Qayqayt First Nation is the only First Nation community in B.C. without a current land base.

The federal government allocated the reserves to the Qayqayt people in 1859, but archaeological remains indicate the area along the Fraser River was the ancestral home of ancient tribes including Qw’ó:ntl’an (or Kwantlen, associated with the present day Sto:lo). The Qw’ó:ntl’an was among the groups whose ancestral home was centred at what would later become known as New Westminster.

Several villages were important to the Qw’o:ntl’an people at this location, including a site called “Qayqayt” (meaning “resting place”) situated across the river from the City of New Westminster. This seasonal fishing village and hunting base was also a place for the Qw’o:ntl’an people to pick cranberries. After Fort Langley was established in 1827, the Qw’o:ntl’an moved 30 miles up-river near the fort to establish themselves as middlemen between the fur traders and other First Nations groups.

Rhonda’s grandparents were among the few that still lived on the reserve in New Westminster, even after the federal government sold the land. Her mother, Marie, was born there, but was sent to residential school in Kamloops after her parents passed away. Most of the Qayqayt land was shut down due to the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission, which authorized the addition, elimination and removal of reserves throughout the province between 1913-1916. A smallpox epidemic reduced the population from 400 to 100.

Rhonda’s aunt and uncle were the last two living members of the Qayqayt First Nation, but they didn’t know at the time about “Indian status,” which they needed in order to be officially recognized. Even though they were still on the band list, they were not documented as living on the Qayqayt reserve. The New Westminster Indian Band was consequently placed on the General List of Reserves – Inactive. Rhonda’s aunt and uncle subsequently passed away.

When Rhonda proved to what was then the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that she was Marie’s daughter, she was not only named a member of the New Westminster Indian Band, the band was also removed from the list and deemed active.

With a commitment to honour her mother’s history, Rhonda slowly became involved with the City of New Westminster and Douglas College, and it “mushroomed out from there,” she says. Other First Nations also offered support, such as the Katzie First Nation’s provision of boats and expertise when Rhonda and her family sought fishing rights. The Qayqayt community was granted permission to fish in the Fraser River for food, social and ceremonial purposes in 1996. Rhonda’s brother, Rob, now leads fishing for the Qayqayt people.

Rhonda’s brothers, Rob and Rod, have gone down the red road, embracing their traditional spirituality. Ron, her eldest brother, recently passed away.

Shortly after receiving her Indian status, Rhonda was elected chief of the band council, the governing body for the community. The band council now has four councillors and there are 12 official Qayqayt members, although Rhonda says there is a larger community of under 100 people.

Rhonda is grateful that a new elementary school in New Westminster, on the site of St. Mary’s Hospital where Marie was born, is being named École Qayqayt Elementary School. “That is a big honour for us,” she says.

Since retiring 14 years ago, Rhonda has dedicated herself full-time to creating cultural awareness, especially among children. She has also focused on building a relationship with the community of New Westminster, and the complex, expensive process of filing a specific claim with the Department Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada regional office in Vancouver.

Specific claims deal with particular grievances relating to the administration of First Nations lands and assets under the Indian Act, as well as the fulfillment of treaties. Without a current land base, the Qayqayt First Nation cannot work with the B.C. Treaty Commission, which is the independent body responsible for facilitating treaty negotiations among the governments of Canada, B.C. and First Nations in B.C.

One of the most challenging aspects of this process has been putting together the claim, Rhonda says. She’s happy it was submitted last year with the help of a lawyer being financed through a federal grant, researcher Sandra Isaac and others in the community. The claim moved to the Department of Justice in Ottawa in February 2013, where it is currently under review.

Qayqayt First Nation is working with Urban Matters to explore the community’s options for re-establishing a permanent reserve, cultural and community space. They are also developing a strategic plan to consider directions for the community during this time of transition and into the future.

Her steadfast commitment to this journey always takes Rhonda back to her mother. “Everything I have done, I have done because of and for my mom,” she says. “Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the generations after should know where they came from.”


dead soul
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07-06-2015, 01:28 PM
Post: #3
RE: A mother’s anguish transforms a painful history
There is an island in the Fraser river that was set aside for industrial use but is currently vacant. I sincerely hope Chief Larrabee and the Qayqayt people are granted this place as they strive to reclaim their physical existence as a people from the brink of extinction. The BC First Nations have had a long history of solidarity and mutual assistance with with the Asian and Hawaiian communities here, notably hiding Japanese internees during the war, this story is typical of many along these lines.

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07-06-2015, 01:35 PM
Post: #4
RE: A mother’s anguish transforms a painful history
reading. Seems like you are quite interested in displaced peoples and marginalized religious groups/cultures
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