REMARKABLE LIVES: TIIT SKEE SUP: TYEE HAWILTH (CHIEF) BERT MACK, TOQUAHT FIRST NATION

 

Chief Bert Mack and his wife Lil Mack. Photo taken January 9th, 2009 at Hupacasath House of Gathering,

Port Alberni, BC on the Occasion ofChief Bert Mack passing his chieftainship to his Daughter Anne Mack.

 

Cuthbert Anderson Mack was born May 11, 1923 in the village of Ucluelet to Chief Cecil Mack, hereditary Chief of Toquaht First Nation and his wife, Jessie Mack. Bert was the oldest child of 7 children. He passed away peacefully on June 3, 2012 at the age of 89 years. His death was an immense loss to his family, the Toquaht Nation, the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation and I daresay across British Columbia and Canada as he was well known and remembered in many places.

Being the oldest male child, Bert was in line to take over the chieftainship from his father when his father deemed the time to be right. As a young man in his position, he was taught history, protocols, songs and dances throughout his growing up years. Chieftainship was always taken very seriously and ensuring that the right teachings were embedded in the mind of Bert was key to the protection and prosperity of the territory and the continuation of the culture and traditions of the Toquaht Nation.

I know that a lot of those teachings remained with Chief Bert because I was with him many times when he talked of his territory, history and protocols. He knew the boundaries, he knew the place names, he knew the stories, he knew where all the resources of his territory were. As a very traditional chief, he used a speaker to talk on his behalf. Hereditary chiefs did not speak often in public but allowed their speaker who had also been trained all their lives for that role, to do the speaking. Archie Thompson was his speaker for many years until his passing. Between Chief Bert Mack and Archie Thompson, their in depth knowledge of the territory, history and protocols was comprehensive. Another area that Bert was an expert in was family relationships. He knew how he was related to the Chiefs of the Barclay Sound as well as all other familial relationships.

Chief Mack was my uncle, a first cousin to my mother so in our way, he was my Uncle. My grandmother Annie Klahoutua was an older sister to his mother Jessie Klahouta. Chief Mack would always make sure people understood how he was related to myself and other people as family was the most important thing to him. He would stand up people and have relationships explained by his speaker. He loved to share his knowledge and I was fortunate to be a beneficiary of some of that knowledge.

Bert was handed down the chieftainship from his father at the young age of 21 years. He held his position for 65 years and passed his chieftainship onto his daughter Anne Mack in January of 2009. 65 long years of serving his people, making a difference in the world for them and sacrificing his own family time to attend the many meetings, events, negotiations and business dealings he was a part of. Being a leader takes time and energy and his family missed his presence for many special events and just family time. He was married to his wife Lil for 67 years. Lil stood beside him through all those years and events and played a key role in his life and accomplishments. Families make the biggest sacrifice with their husband/father/grandfather off at some meeting when there were things to be done at home. How grateful we all are to his family for allowing him that time to do the things he did.

I witnessed the ceremony in January 2009 where Chief Bert Mack passed on his chieftainship to his daughter Anne. All his people stood up and thanked him, honoured him and held him up in the way of our culture for what he had done for them over the many years. When the ceremony for passing the Chieftainship was over, the same people of his community stood up and pledged their support to their new Chief, Anne Mack, Wis-kits-keom. Such is the way of our people.

There are many, many accomplishments that can be mentioned of what Chief Bert Mack achieved in his lifetime. He was a thriving force in the West Coast District Council which later became the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council(NTC). He was a logger for MacMillan Bloedel for over 30 years, so he and the other 13 chiefs of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation entrusted George Watts as Chair of the West Coast District Council and then the NTC to carry out their mandated work as they had full time jobs. The NTC is well known for their progressive advances and strong stands they took over rights and were a force to be reckoned with. When they were needed, the Chiefs were at meetings with governments, companies and other parties. I remember meeting all of the Chiefs in Ottawa during the constitutional conferences and other key meetings.

The First Nations of the Central Region, Toquaht, Ucluelet, Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht were very concerned over the developments going on in their territories, in particular logging. They unified in strength and over 40 days and 40 nights, the chiefs eventually concluded an Interim Measures agreement over Clayoquot Sound that formed a Joint Management Board where the First Nations held a double majority vote on any decisions relating to their territories. This interim agreement took a lot of lobbying and enlisted the aid of Robert Kennedy Jr. and trips to New York to meet with him. Chief Mack was part of this lobby, this force that got the government on side to sign the agreement. Chief Mack was one of the founding members of the Joint Management Board. It was only in this way that the First Nations were able to slow down the devastation of their natural resources within their territories.

Having a Chief of Bert’s stature, knowledge and tenure with them during these meetings lent a lot of credibility to what was being negotiated.

I remember that when Chief Mack retired, he became busier than ever. He no longer had to work so he could devote all his time to the assertion of Toquaht rights and title. He was on the road constantly between Ucluelet and Port Alberni or Vancouver or Victoria, wherever he was required to press the cause and needs of his people.

One of the highlights of his career was to see the Maa-nulth Treaty being signed and implemented. 13 NTC Nations started negotiating a treaty together. In December of 2000, the Nations voted on the Agreement in Principle. Only 6 Nations ratified the agreement in principle, one of which was Toquaht. 5 of these Nations including Toquaht went on to negotiate the Final Agreement. In February 2007, Chief Bert Mack made a speech to the BC Legislature that reflected his satisfaction of finally reaching an agreement that excluded the Indian Act. It was something that he accomplished that knew he could now pass on his chieftainship. One of the dreams come true for him. Settling the issues of Toquaht title and building a foundation for future generations.  On July 7th, 2010, another significant day for Chief Bert Mack, marked an important ceremony, the raising of welcoming figures on their on lands within their territory.  His happiness was contagious to all the people there and we all were part of history being made.

Tiit-skee-sup, Tyee Hawilth Bert Mack, a remarkable man, a warrior for our people, a leader and Chief that we will always love and remember. We celebrate his life because he touched so many of our lives and we will never forget.

Photo taken at Moacoah July 7th, 2010 when Welcoming Figures were raised.

 

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