Community loses ‘great and noble man’

The We Wai Kai Nation has lost a kind-hearted, generous and hard-working leader and mentor

Rod Naknakim

The We Wai Kai Nation has lost a kind-hearted, generous and hard-working leader and mentor.

Rod Naknakim passed away suddenly on March 9 at the age of 69.

A father to three sons and grandfather to three grandchildren, Naknakim is being mourned by his family and all who knew him.

Deidre Cullon, who knew Naknakim for nearly 20 years and had been working alongside him on Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty negotiations, said he will be deeply missed.

“He was the most kind and generous person I knew and just really and truly dedicated to his community,” Cullon said. “He worked tirelessly for what he believed in. He was a real advocate for language and culture.”

Naknakim was born on Feb. 6, 1948 and grew up in Cape Mudge on Quadra Island. He attended high school in Campbell River and after graduation, enrolled at the University of Victoria, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974. He then went on to the University of B.C., graduating in 1977 with a law degree. Naknakim was called to the Bar, became a lawyer, and put his skills and knowledge to use working for the Laich-Kwil-Tach Nation.

Cullon said his dedication to negotiating a place in Canada for Laich-Kwil-Tach rights and title “was endless.” Cullon said in 2008 Naknakim became the chief negotiator for the Laich-Kwil-Tach.

“Key for Rod was ensuring that Laich-Kwil-Tach people received recognition and that Laich-Kwil-Tach rights, culture and the Liq’wala language are protected in ways that will ensure Laich-Kwil-Tach identity for future generations,” Cullon said.

Naknakim worked tirelessly to create opportunities for people to learn Liq’wala, practice their culture, connect to the territory and to understand their history.

He was also deeply involved with the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre on Quadra Island, supporting the centre’s repatriation efforts and language recording since joining the Nuyumbalees Society’s board of directors in 1980.

Jodi Simkin, executive director of the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, said his efforts were to him a sacred responsibility.

“He felt not only an obligation to support the efforts of his elders who sought the repatriation of potlatch artifacts, but viewed this work as an honour and inspiration for future generations,” Simkin said. “Guided by a strong sense of purpose, Rod shared his knowledge freely.”

Simkin said he lent his expertise to many organizations, including the BC Museum Association (BCMA) where this past fall he presented his ideas on the four pillars of repatriation.

“The ‘Rod Naknakim Declaration’ as it is now called, positions the BCMA as a leader within the cultural sector, providing a tremendous and meaningful step forward in the enhancement and development of Indigenous and museum relationships,” Simkin said.

Up until his death, Naknakim had been working with Simkin to organize the Tribal Journeys event coming to Campbell River and Quadra Island in July. The event will see roughly 100 canoes pull into Cape Mudge and Campbell River and it’s expected to attract around 7,000 people to the city.

Naknakim was proud to be hosting First Nation families from around the world.

“Tribal Journeys is a revival of the traditional method of transportation and a significant cultural experience for all the participants,” Naknakim told the Strathcona Regional District board of directors during an event presentation in November. “Tribal Journeys has helped promote cross cultural exchange among the thousands of pullers, spectators and dignitaries that have participated.”

When the canoes pull in to Cape Mudge this summer, Naknakim may not be there in physical form but he’s sure to be there in spirit and in the memories of those he left behind.

“The lasting legacy of Rod Naknakim can be felt in the tears of the mourners he leaves behind,” Simkin said. “His children should be comforted with the knowledge that he was a great and noble man with a kind heart and unique humility that impressed those who had the privilege to walk beside him and share in the incredible optimism he had for all of us.”

A celebration of life will be held in honour of Naknakim on Friday, March 17 at 1 p.m. at the Cape Mudge Community Hall.