Honouring Chief Viola Wyse

Mon. Oct. 5/09
Mark Kiemele

An estimated 1,000 people came to honour the memory of Chief Viola Wyse of Snuneymuxw on August 21 at the Beban Auditorium in Nanaimo. It was a mark of her stature that the dignitaries included Premier Gordon Campbell and the newly-elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo.

Klahowya published many photographs over the years of Chief Wyse. There were few formal photographs. The ones at official functions didn’t often portray the real Viola Wyse. Our favourite photographs include the one at Caledonia Park as she walked behind the Snuneymuxw team at the 2007 Coast Salish Games. Or the one laughing with Joe Seward’s young child at a community meeting. Or standing on the shore at Departure Bay during a treaty protest that same year.

But Salish tradition does not allow the ‘showing’ of a photograph until four years after a passing. In 2013 we will be able to show her photographs again. Until then, we will have to remember her face in our memories. And read some of her words.

In one of her final messages to her people, she wrote in her Chief’s Corner column in the Snuneymuxw newsletter: “Our House of Learning keeps proving to be a terrific idea and just what we needed: these days the class-rooms are filled with the joyful songs and words of our original language… Perhaps it’s because people feel at home and comfortable coming to class on their home land, and the bonus is that they are learning together with many of the people they grew up with.”

In the days after her death, the website of the Snuneymuxw First Nation was filled with tributes and condolences from the greater community.

And later in that same column, she said: “We are indeed getting stronger as a community and a wider aboriginal culture.”

Those were all things true to the heart of Chief Viola Wyse. As a tribute, we include here some of her other comments over recent years.


When I walk home from work in the late afternoon, any tiredness I have soon disappears as I see and hear our community.

“There are new houses being built, others being renovated and so many signs of a growing community… children playing, families working in their yards, the smells of suppers being cooked and people walking down Centre Street toward their families and neighbours.

One thing that really makes my heart feel good is to see a young family moving into a new house and watching that house become a home. I watch them take pride in the place they live in and take responsibility for paying their rent or mortgages. It’s how they are becoming real citizens of Snuneymuxw.”

Snuneymuxw newsletter – October, 2007


“All of us – whether from First Nations, business, industry or government – are being required to make critical decisions that will affect not only the generation of today, but also the children of our children. We will have to take the long view as we make resolutions, judgments and settlements in the days ahead.

As we pursue many opportunities here at this conference, we must be led by the conviction that better understanding and partnerships will only come about if we realize that we are all in this together.”

Rebuilding Our Economies and Repairing Our Environment conference – February, 2009


“Formal schooling is certainly important. Our young people must be prepared for the lives that are ahead of them and there is no better way to prepare than to become knowledgeable about the world in general as well as specific things, whether you plan to be a carpenter or a lawyer.

But there is more to education than just school. We learn many of life’s lessons as we sit and listen to our Elders. We gain wisdom and insight as we socialize and communicate with others.”

Community newsletter – January 2009

“I am a lot like you when it comes to getting things done. Rather than just sitting around and talking about things, I like to roll up my sleeves and really get to work.”

Community newsletter –December 2008

Donations may be made to Vancouver Island University to a bursary in Chief Wyse's name.