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Great leader Carrier Chief Kw’eh honoured

Dakelh (Carrier) Chief Kw’eh is now officially designated as a person of national historic significance.
Kw’eh’s decendent Lillian Sam autographing a copy of the book ‘Chief Kw’eh Remembered’ which she wrote with historian Frieda Klippenstein. Photo Fiona Maureen

On Saturday morning July 22, a small group gathered in light rain to observe the unveiling of a bronze plaque, in honour of Chief Kw’eh, presented by Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada.

The 200 lb bronze plaque is inscribed as follows: “Chief Kw’eh (c. 1755 - 1840). This Dakelh (Carrier) chief emerged as a great leader during a critical period. Early in life he distinguished himself as a warrior, defusing a cycle of warfare between the Dakelh-ne of Stuart Lake and the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) to the south. Kw’eh’s esteemed position enabled him to negotiate relations with fur traders who established a post here in 1806. His conciliatory approach in conflicts with these newcomers and his ability to provide for both his people and the traders are legendary. The “dreamer of the salmon” continues to preside over the fishery from his burial place at the mouth of the Stuart River.”

After a brief introduction by Bob Grill, Site Manager of the Fort St. James National Historic Site, elected chief Alex McKinnon of Nak’azdli Whut’en welcomed visitors to the unveiling the plaque for Chief Kw’eh. “We welcome you with open arms and warm hearts, we are a community of gracious people. We like to welcome people into our community. We are very open to sit down and talk with people who are not locally from here,” he said.

“Chief Kw’eh was a member of the Lhts’umusyoo (Beaver) clan. He was a great leader, protector and provider of the Dakelh-ne nation. It was he who kept his people secure and prosperous on the land of the Dakelh-ne.

Also known as the dreamer of salmon he chose his burial place at the mouth of the Stuart River.

“After his death people reported hearing his rattle announcing the return of the salmon runs. And they remembered his promise to continue to provide for his people as long as he was remembered. It was this great leader who spared the life of his prisoner, fur trader and future BC governor James Douglas in 1828 here at this trading post.

“He was also the one who received the explorer Simon Fraser in 1806 when the Carrier brought him to Tsaooche (Sowchea) village. In gratitude Simon Fraser presented Kw’eh with a red cloth. Peter Erickson Kw’eh’s descendent returned the red cloth to Canada in 1997.

“Kw’eh was called back to the spirit work in the spring of 1840 and many Dakalhe-ne proudly call Kw’eh their ancestors.

Elder Lillian Sam shared a few words before saying a prayer.

“It’s always an honour to be here at the historical site where Chief Kw’eh is honoured and where they started honouring the first salmon of the salmon run. The salmon was not separated from the people. It was their livelihood. I’ve been doing so much research on how they lived, the hardship in the past and what they used to survive.” said Lillian.

There followed a procession leading over to the plaque site.

Bob Grill gave the introduction:

“This structure we built, Lillian and I worked on it for the Chief Kw’eh display room in 2006. It was built to kinda remind us of that building right there, the fish cache. The fish cache, along with the fur warehouse, both have the highest designation and the most high level of protection that Parks Canada can afford any building, very special buildings.

“I like the fish cache because it is kinda a Carrier design in that it’s up off the ground and a European structure type so it’s a representation of sort of the mix of people that were here in 1806 on and certainly in 1896. It looks a little like that. It’s a piece on piece structure put together with mortise and tenon joints and in it was stored Chief Kw’eh’s knife, an iron dagger, which remains in the museum. So I thought it was appropriate to place it out here and and put the plaque on. Also, it leaves room if the Band wants to put on more interpretation, as it might say things that the plaque does,” said Rob Grill.

Elder Lilian and Chief McKinnon lifted the plywood cover off to reveal the bronze inscribed plaque.

“That is brass and it weighs around 200 Lbs and it’s in three languages [English, French and Carrier] and it should be here a while,” said Grill implying that the plaque would outlive all of us as it is intendend, and generations more to come.

“And you are the first to lay eyes on it!” exclaimed Chief Alex McKinnon, smiling brightly.

Lillian then read out loud the Carrier translation which she explained was translated by the elders of the Carrier linguistic committee.

Chief McKinnon concluded: “You are able to access Chief Kw’eh’s grave site. If you haven’t seen the sign along the highway there, you go down the long driveway and a stairway down to his grave site, his burial place at the mouth of the Stuart River, which you can see from here right at that point.”

The procession then returned to the shelter of a tent cover to bless the occasion with traditional singing and drumming. They were not able to drum in the rain at the plaque site as the rain would damage the drum.

Kwah is the English form of the Carrier name Kw’eh.

Commemorative coin in a “Heritage Series” issued by the Indian Cultural Society of Vancouver in 1978. Image Chief Kwah Remembered