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First Nationís Pride: an Interview with Ernie Philip
met Ernie Philip in Squilax at the Quaaout Resort, somewhere
between Chase and Salmon Arm, just off of Highway 1 in the
middle of British Columbia. He showed up wearing a bright
turquoise, traditionally patterned shirt and jeans, oversized
sunglasses, belt buckle and a personality to match.
Ernie is an Elder of the Little
Shuswap Indian people and 26-time fancy dance (the traditional
dance of the Native Indians) champion of North America. He is a
spry 76-year-old with wild gray hair and an inviting grin. We
eventually explored the Quaaout grounds and chatted about
Shuswap Band ways over buffalo burgers served on a delicious
I should start by telling you that I am one of the
worst interviewers of all-time. I wanted you to know that ahead
of time as to not scare you later. But this is just for fun, so
people can know more about you and the Little Shuswap Band of
Indians. Can we start with the basics?
(Ernie smiles) First of all my name is Ernie Philip, my
Christian name, and I go by Ernie. I have a native name I got
back eight years ago, Dancing Bear from the Sioux Indians. I
received another one in 1974 Ė I donít ask for names, but they
give me them anyway. I am also known as Black Feather, which was
given to me by the Blackfoot Indians. I am from the little Shuswap Indian Band, and weíre a population of about 300 now. At
our smallest point, around the late 1800s, maybe 1884, I think
we were either 53 or 54 people. So we are increasing in numbers.
Have you lived in this region your entire life?
Well, I was a court worker in the past and I lived on the coast
and everywhere, you know. Out in Maple Ridge and in the
Chilliwack area, and I came back in 1989. This is my home with
my little band. It is my tribe and my nation.
How long has your band lived in this region?
It has been noted, as there is a lot of information out there
now, that the Shuswap have been here probably 12 or 13,000
would be unique about the little Shuswap band?
First of all, you must know the region. This region is what we
call ďPlateau People.Ē It comes all the way down from Oregon and
Washington State. All the way up here and we call this the
Plateau People. We are not Plains, we are West Coast. We have
connection to the Canadian Rockies and are similar to the
Blackfoot and the Indians Warm Springs Indians. We are just one
part of 17 different bands that make up the Shuswap Nation. We
take up the largest area in British Columbia
Where does the Little Shuswap extend to and from?
We go from Chase Creek, to Williams Lake to Kamloops.
We come from a very large area even down south. Jasper also used
to be Shuswap Territory.
What should somebody from Los Angeles to know about
the traditions or the Customs?
Well these people in the past were very unique. They were very
good fishermen and hunters. They were good at survival. They had
a system, which was completely opposite to the Western ways. Do
you understand? The Western ways, the European ways. Our way of
life here was close to Mother Nature. We loved Mother Nature in
the past and we lived in harmony with Mother Nature. We lived in
that society for 12 or 13,000 years. We loved animals, trees,
and even bugs, anything that Mother Nature created. It is part
of our tradition of the past. Always remember, we lived
completely opposite to the Europeans. So this is the way that we
lived for many thousands of years. So thatís what makes our
culture outstanding. We believe that we must respect everyone.
See our people, the Shuswap People, never had a cuss word or a
swear word in our language. There is no word such as hate in our
language. How could you hate anything in Mother Nature?
This was all the same before the European people came. This
territory, the Shuswap people had everything. For instance
animals: we had a rabbit, elk, caribou,and moose. We had all
kinds of fish. We had thousands of them, millions of them,
sometimes. This is the area, in which, they spawn, millions and
millions of salmon. We had chickens and all kinds of Indian
carrots and Indian potatoes, celery; we had all kinds of
vegetables, you name it. All kinds of berries, just name it. And
our people were all free from sickness in the past too.
All these things I am saying to you are true. It is not
false. When the missionaries came they destroyed our way of
culture. Youíre not supposed to know about natives. They even
put that into the law. We are not supposed to dance. We are not
supposed to speak our language. Weíre not supposed to dress up.
Weíre not supposed to know nothing about natives. At least until
1951 or 1952 when they passed the Bill of Rights. I think I have
some information my room; do you want to take a look at it?
Thatís OK. (Ernie then gives me a big toothy
I am just that kind of a person. I back up what I say. Thatís
the only weapon we have, the truth. We donít believe in
roadblocks, and we donít believe in demonstrations. We just go
day by day. Weíre very lucky to have our hotel. Weíre very lucky
to have our golf course. We have been fortunate. We have our
schools for our people. We have many different things for our
people. In the 1980s in the 1990s, I think it was, 93% people of
our people do not take alcohol or do drugs. Since then itís
dropped off a little bit to about 87%. You know the young ones
like to try it just like any other race.
Are the Little Shuswap Indian Band returning to the
Well itís not 100% or nothing in that area because a lot of our
young people are lost. But it is just the way of life, which has
a lot to do with their forefathers when a lot of their identity
had been destroyed, but they come back very slowly. I hope one
day, I hope that we get our traditions and our culture back. And
still try to combine it with some of the modern things that we
have today. It would make us proud. It really makes me proud of
who I am. Thereís no one that can take that away from me. It is
what I show to the world. Iím very proud of who I am. Pride,
identity, respect. I truly respect all people. I love you. I
love anyone for who they are thatís the way I look at things.
You should make sure to take pictures of the building in the
area. Iím sure the people in Los Angeles will think itís snowing
here, but itís not.
The Quaaout Resort offers comfortable stays, lots of outdoor
activities and a few traditional Indian ones. It is not unusual
for Ernie to do some dancing and accompany visitors for a
traditional sweat lodge experience.
Written and photographed by