Chief Tom Timothy (~1870-1955)
Chief Tom Timothy, also known as tama , was born around the year 1870 to parents ‘Captain’ Timothy from Sliammon , and qɑʔɑχstɑles (Anne Assu) from Cape Mudge. As the last hereditary chief of the Tla’amin Nation, he was highly respected amongst his community. Chief Tom lead his community through many difficult years before ultimately passing on the position after nearly seven decades.
Early in adulthood, he met his wife Mary and they had many children together. He lived a traditional lifestyle within the constraints of colonialism, spending time at different sites throughout Tla’amin territory including Qah Qeh qay (Grace Harbour), Metokomen (Lang Bay, Cokqueneets Sechelt Lands), and t'ishosum (Sliammon Village). For most of his later years, Chief Tom lived with his family at Kleh Kwahn num (Scuttle Bay).
He lived a very full life and became well acquainted with the European-style society emerging outside of his community, experience that enhanced his leadership skills and ability to navigate relations between his community, settlers, and the Canadian government. Chief Tom shared this knowledge with his people, which helped mitigate some of the difficulties brought upon the Tla’amin nation by colonialism.
Under Tom’s leadership, the village at Sliammon was entirely rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1918. Chief Tom evacuated his people to Ah gyk sun (Harwood Island), and there was not a single casualty.
As a hereditary chief, it was part of Chief Tom’s duties to be a knowledge sharer on behalf of his people. During the 1930’s, ethnographer Homer Barnett who was studying Coast Salish culture was frequently in contact with Chief Tom. Tom explained to Barnett as much information regarding the customs and lifestyle of the Tla’amin Nation as was culturally appropriate. This information was later published by Barnett in his ethnography “The Coast Salish of British Columbia”.
In 1937 Chief Tom received the coronation medal, an accolade recognizing the coronation of King George VI, awarded to recipients in the British Commonwealth for service to their communities.
Chief Tom was also an accomplished boat builder, specializing in the craft of dugout canoes. Multiple settler families living on the outskirts of Powell River recall receiving canoes built by Chief Tom, and he was known to socialize and trade with many people outside his own community. In 1939 a canoe was built by Chief Tom with the help of Eugene Frank from Sechelt for the purposes of the upcoming royal visit. The canoe was very large with capacity for eleven people, and was used to escort the ship carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England across the Salish Sea from Vancouver to Victoria.
On January 1st of 1949, Status Indians in British Columbia gained the right to vote in provincial elections. It was later that year when Chief Tom voted for the first time, alongside approximately seventy percent of the eligible voters from the Tla’amin Nation. Chief Tom encouraged the people of his community to vote and have their voices heard, and even procured a bus to transport people to the polling centre in Wildwood.
Despite the Indian Act’s regulation on elections beginning in 1876, no formal election was held during Tom’s time as Chief, as nobody in the community would vote against him. The system of hereditary chiefs and knowledge-holding people in the community had existed for the Tla’amin people since before memory, and they could not be convinced to deviate from this system. In 1952, he stepped down from his position after approximately 70 years. His successor, Charlie Peters Williams, became the first elected Chief of Tla’amin. This marked the transition from traditional ways of governance to the colonially imposed Chief and Band Council system for the Tla’amin Nation.
As of 2016, the Tla'amin Nation is once again self governing. Tla'amin's current governance system consists of the Hegus and elected officials, a system which upholds Tla'amin values and rights.
Chief Tom Timothy died on October 28, 1955. His funeral service was attended by over four hundred people from all over the coast, a clear demonstration of the respect and admiration he held, as well as his significance to the Tla’amin Nation and surrounding communities.