All one people: the Klahoose, K’omox, Tla’amin and Homalco Nations

Klahoose cultural leader Norm Harry explains that the Klahoose, Homalco, K'omox and Tla'amin were originally all one people.
Photo courtesy of to’q kaimook Cultural Leader Norm Harry.
Roy Hales - CKTZ - Cortes IslandBC | 15-08-2020

By Roy L Hales

Some Canadians of European descent find the fact three Indigenous nations claim Cortes Island as their traditional territory confusing, but a member of the Klahoose Nation explained this in a recent interview. Norm Harry's (“Tal-wa-ska“) father was originally xʷɛmaɬkʷu (Homalco) but became  ƛohos (Klahoose). Some of Norm’s uncles and aunts are ɬəʔamɛn (Tla’amin) and his family also has close relatives among the K’omox. As Norm Harry understands it, these nations were all one people before the Canadian government put them onto reservations.

All one people

“There was no Tla’min, Klahoose or Homalco. Each was into intermarriage, that is why they did not want to be put onto Tla’min, Klahoose or Homalco reservations. You lived where you wanted to live,” he explained.

His father lived in Homalco, at the head of Knight’s Inlet, but ...

“... Didn’t like it there. So he chose to run away and he came here. The church told him ‘we will see how you react for one year.’”

That is how Norm Harry came to be raised among the Klahoose.

Hereditary Chief of the Harry family

Norm says he is the Hereditary Chief of Harry family.

This is not a title recognized by the local band council, who said the Harrys came from the Homalco Nation and were not hereditary chiefs of the Klahoose Nation.

While the band can extend membership to anyone it desires, the four hereditary chiefs of the Klahoose Nation were the heads of the nation’s four historic longhouses. The Hill family were Hereditary Chiefs of the Klahoose Nation and the Wing Chiefs came from the Dominick, Louie and Pielle families.

The Klahoose Nation have not had any hereditary chiefs since the 1880s, but they know the family lines and are considering restoring this traditional system of government.

Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco Nation said there were Harrys among his people, the Klahoose and Tla’amin, but he was not aware of them having a hereditary chief.

What does this mean, in terms of Norm Harry’s claim to be hereditary chief of his family?

Does he need to be recognized by the Klahoose or Homalco Nations?

Norm Harry's relatives spread out as far as Seattle, where one of his brothers and a sister are both buried.

“A lot of our family are buried in the Seattle area,” he explained. “I have over a hundred family members that ran away from the residential schools. Now they have to have green card to stay in the United States.”

Neither the Klahoose or Homalco have signed a treaty with Canada.

Norm Harry does not consider himself a ‘Canadian,’ but still has to show his Canadian Indian status card to cross the border into the United States.

The Klahoose

His friend and student Mario de Rose pointed out that the name Klahoose is not used in Norm Harry’s home:

“I don’t speak for Tal-wa-ska, but he has been educating me for years, so maybe I can translate here. Tal-wa-ska  usually refers to his people and his language as t’oq’  qaymɩχʷ (sounds like “to’q kaimook”), not Klahoose.”

“If I have it right then, while Klahoose is a word from the t’oq’ qaymɩχʷ language, yet Tal-wa-ska usually doesn’t use it that way – he’s more using it as an english word.  Originally, Klahoose means “sculpin” a small fish that lives on the bottom of the ocean.  Now, as a part of the english language really, Klahoose is used to represent the local version of the Canadian enforced style of indigenous governance of having a “band”, a “nation” and elected officials.  Still, Tal-wa-ska  tells us his people aligned themselves in large family groups each with a hereditary chief and then moved and intermarried freely.  They were and are a “people”, there was no “nation” in the European context, as I understand it.”

“To see how wrong Canada got these people, note that their crest (which they chose for themselves) isn’t a fish on the bottom, but a goat on a crag.  It’s completely opposite really.  My grasp is that it represents their attachment to the mountainous area on the mainland, where traditionally they most frequently lived – ‘Yekwamen’ now called Toba Inlet.”

The Nations

The to’q kaimook (Klahoose) were moved to the reservation in Squirrel Cove during the 1890s. While there are now about 400, only about 75 or so band members live on the reservation. The rest are found in areas like NanaimoPowell RiverVancouver and Seattle.

“There are about 1,000 Tla’amin and 700 Homalco,” added Norman.

How did they govern themselves?

How did such a widespread people govern themselves?

Norm Harry explained, “We went to the big house a lot, put the fires on and asked, ‘Is this what you want?’ We talked about housing, hunting, education etc.”

Click here to access podcasts of Cortes Radio’s Klahoose Language Program with Norm Harry


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