Sam Schooner is Chief of the Nuxalk Nation. (Photo submitted)

‘We need jobs,’ says newly-elected Nuxalk Chief Samuel Schooner

Schooner was elected as chief on May 26, 2021 after serving as a councillor for more than a decade

Nuxalk Nation’s newly-elected Chief Samuel Schooner is hoping to help create jobs for his community.

Schooner, who won by 16 votes during the May 26, 2021 election, said he ran because he felt the nation needed some change and a different direction.

“We need jobs and I think I can get us there,” he told Coast Mountain News.

Schooner was born in Victoria, but his parents Norman and Lorraine moved home to Bella Coola when he was six years old.

After he finished high school, Schooner left the Central Coast to find work.

“There really wasn’t any work here for myself, nothing that paid very well. I moved and did a variety of different jobs — I ran machinery.”

For several years he worked for Lake Excavating Ltd. in Williams Lake, specifically on the Walmart and Canadian Tire sites.

Twelve years ago he returned home with his daughter, now 14, and was elected on band council soon afterwards.

At the top of his priorities is to develop a strong housing plan.

“We are basically running out of usable lots. We think we have 30 more lots on reserve and then we are maxed out. We are 300 houses behind and that was 12 years ago. We have so many community members packed into houses and we have to solve that.”

Employment is also a concern, especially because salmon stocks are declining, he added.

“We are the people of the salmon and if our salmon go then we have 80 to 85 per cent of our population unemployed.”

The Nuxalk Nation reserve area covers less than four square kilometres spread over two areas. Schooner said it was not designed that way at first. The original reservation was from Clayton Falls all the way to Grant Road.

“Years ago that land was signed away from our people and signed with an ‘x’ from a hereditary chief at the time — late 1800s early 1900s, so that x could have been made by anybody.”

A plan is in place to pursue a specific claim and the band is in the early stage of gathering people to the table to start the process.

“We have a lot of educated people that are Nuxalk and we want them to come back in some sort of capacity and hire them to make Nuxalk great again. I think we are behind a bit, but we can catch up.”

Alongside Schooner there are 12 councillors.

The nation has about 2,000 members with more than 1,000 living in the area.

The Nuxalk Acwsalcmalslayc Academy of Learning has about 200 students, a daycare and a preschool.

Commenting on the announcement of 215 children’s bodies buried at the former Kamloops Residential School site, Schooner said it was like having a band-aid ripped off an old wound.

“We need to heal and I really wish that for my people,” he said.

Schooner is 50 years old and said he was 38 when he first learned his parents had attended residential school.

Read more: Historic MOU signed between Nuxalk Nation, CCRD and province for local emergency management

He had just returned from going to a program called Honour Your Grief through the Tsow-Tun-Le-Lum Society on Vancouver Island because he was wanting to work on the fact there was a disconnection between his heart and mind.

When he asked his mom if she attended residential school, she did not answer for a long time, but when she did she told him both she and his father had.

“The relationship I had with my dad wasn’t easy, but I never knew he’d gone to residential school. I was able to forgive him for all he had done.”

One day he went with his mom to Vancouver for some medical appointments. They were walking back to their hotel when his mom ran into a woman.

“They looked at each other and they burst into tears. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even ask her what was going on, but just let them cry,” Schooner recalled.

Afterwards he asked his mom what the exchange was about, and she said she had last seen the other woman, who was also Nuxalkmc, in residential school.

“She thought she was dead because she never came home and she never came back to Bella Coola.”

Schooner said First Nations have always known what happened at residential schools.

“We have to go and find our people.”

His mom attended residential school in Port Alberni, Alert Bay and spent some time in the hospital in Nanaimo.

Schooner said he was going to participate in a zoom meeting with Tsilhqot’in chiefs on Thursday, June 3 regarding St. Joseph’s Mission residential school near Williams Lake.

The Nuxalk Nation also has hereditary chiefs and Schooner said a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the elected band and the hereditary chiefs.

“We still need to sit down at the table and are working on the structure of that relationship,” he said.

Read more: Lynda Price re-elected as chief of Ulkatcho First Nation

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