First Nation’s Pride: an Interview with Ernie Philip

Ernie Philip of the Little Shuswap I met Ernie Philip in Squilax at the Quaaout Resort, somewhere between Chase and Salmon Arm, just off of Highway 1 in the middle of British Columbia. He showed up wearing a bright turquoise, traditionally patterned shirt and jeans, oversized sunglasses, belt buckle and a personality to match. Ernie is an Elder of the Little Shuswap Indian people and 26-time fancy dance (the traditional dance of the Native Indians) champion of North America. He is a spry 76-year-old with wild gray hair and an inviting grin. We eventually explored the Quaaout grounds and chatted about Shuswap Band ways over buffalo burgers served on a delicious Indian bread.

I should start by telling you that I am one of the worst interviewers of all-time. I wanted you to know that ahead of time as to not scare you later. But this is just for fun, so people can know more about you and the Little Shuswap Band of Indians. Can we start with the basics?
(Ernie smiles) First of all my name is Ernie Philip, my Christian name, and I go by Ernie. I have a native name I got back eight years ago, Dancing Bear from the Sioux Indians. I received another one in 1974 – I don’t ask for names, but they give me them anyway. I am also known as black feather, which was given to me by the Blackfoot Indians. I am from the little Shuswap Indian Band, and we’re a population of about 300 now. At our smallest point, around the late 1800s, maybe 1884, I think we were either 53 or 54 people. So we are increasing in numbers.

Have you lived in this region your entire life?
Well, I was a court worker in the past and I lived on the coast and everywhere, you know. Out in Maple Ridge and in the Chilliwack area, and I came back in 1989. This is my home with my little band. It is my tribe and my nation.

How long has your band lived in this region?
It has been noted, as there is a lot of information out there now, that the Shuswap have been here probably 12 or 13,000 years.

Quaaout ResortWhat would be unique about the little Shuswap band?
First of all, you must know the region. This region is what we call “Plateau People.” It comes all the way down from Oregon and Washington State. All the way up here and we call this the Plateau People. We are not Plains, we are West Coast. We have connection to the Canadian Rockies and are similar to the Blackfoot and the Indians Warm Springs Indians. We are just one part of 17 different bands that make up the Shuswap Nation. We take up the largest area in British Columbia

Where does the Little Shuswap extend to and from?
We go from Chase Creek, to Williams Lake to Kamloops. We come from a very large area even down south. Jasper also used to be Shuswap Territory.

What should somebody from Los Angeles to know about the traditions or the Customs?
Well these people in the past were very unique. They were very good fishermen and hunters. They were good at survival. They had a system, which was completely opposite to the Western ways. Do you understand? The Western ways, the European ways. Our way of life here was close to Mother Nature. We loved Mother Nature in the past and we lived in harmony with Mother Nature. We lived in that society for 12 or 13,000 years. We loved animals, trees, and even bugs, anything that Mother Nature created. It is part of our tradition of the past. Always remember, we lived completely opposite to the Europeans. So this is the way that we lived for many thousands of years. So that’s what makes our culture outstanding. We believe that we must respect everyone. See our people, the Shuswap People, never had a cuss word or a swear word in our language. There is no word such as hate in our language. How could you hate anything in Mother Nature?

This was all the same before the European people came. This territory, the Shuswap people had everything. For instance animals: we had a rabbit, elk, caribou,and moose. We had all kinds of fish. We had thousands of them, millions of them, sometimes. This is the area, in which, they spawn, millions and millions of salmon. We had chickens and all kinds of Indian carrots and Indian potatoes, celery; we had all kinds of vegetables, you name it. All kinds of berries, just name it. And our people were all free from sickness in the past too.

All these things I am saying to you are true. It is not false. When the missionaries came they destroyed our way of culture. You’re not supposed to know about natives. They even put that into the law. We are not supposed to dance. We are not supposed to speak our language. We’re not supposed to dress up. We’re not supposed to know nothing about natives. At least until 1951 or 1952 when they passed the Bill of Rights. I think I have some information my room; do you want to take a look at it?

That’s OK. (Ernie then gives me a big toothy smile.)
I am just that kind of a person. I back up what I say. That’s the only weapon we have, the truth. We don’t believe in roadblocks, and we don’t believe in demonstrations. We just go day by day. We’re very lucky to have our hotel. We’re very lucky to have our golf course. We have been fortunate. We have our schools for our people. We have many different things for our people. In the 1980s in the 1990s, I think it was, 93% people of our people do not take alcohol or do drugs. Since then it’s dropped off a little bit to about 87%. You know the young ones like to try it just like any other race.

Are the Little Shuswap Indian Band returning to the old ways?
Well it’s not 100% or nothing in that area because a lot of our young people are lost. But it is just the way of life, which has a lot to do with their forefathers when a lot of their identity had been destroyed, but they come back very slowly. I hope one day, I hope that we get our traditions and our culture back. And still try to combine it with some of the modern things that we have today. It would make us proud. It really makes me proud of who I am. There’s no one that can take that away from me. It is what I show to the world. I’m very proud of who I am. Pride, identity, respect. I truly respect all people. I love you. I love anyone for who they are that’s the way I look at things.

You should make sure to take pictures of the building in the area. I’m sure the people in Los Angeles will think it’s snowing here, but it’s not.

Thanks Ernie

The Quaaout Resort offers comfortable stays, lots of outdoor activities and a few traditional Indian ones. It is not unusual for Ernie to do some dancing and accompany visitors for a traditional sweat lodge experience.

http://www.quaaout.com/

Written and photographed by Devin Galaudet

Author: Devin Galaudet

Before being Editor-in-Chief of In The Know Traveler and In The Know Traveler USA, Devin has had stints in antiques, construction, film and as a professional card player. Devin Galaudet has now found his niche combining his passion for travel and writing. Devin still freelances for a popular trade publication and honors this path as a labor of love. When he is not writing Devin enjoys his pixie-like thirteen-year-old daughter and reading confusing esoteric books. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

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8 Comments

  1. Good Day
    My name is Doris Peterson and I am Ernie Philip’s personal assistant and we are working on a website for Ernie and we are looking for articles, pictures and any other information that others may have gather over the years about Ernie. I am hoping that you will send us a copy of this article and any others that you may have, and allow us the privilage to put this article on the website. The website is not up and running at this time but will be shortly.

    Thank you for considering our website for Ernie.
    Doris Peterson
    Personal Assistant
    Ernie Philip

    dorisp@lakecable.ca

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  2. Hello Ernie, I hope he gets this message,I hope you remember me,its been almost 30yrs.I was internet surfing and found your name to my surprise came up and Mr. Ernie Philips.WOW….anyway I hope you can write me back and tell me how you doing etc….talk to you later .Sincerely, Teresa (Nez Perce tribe)

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  3. Hi Teresa,

    I have forwarded your contact information to Ernie and hopefully he will get back with you shortly. I feel fortunate to have spent an afternoon with him. He is a very nice man.
    devin
    Editor ITKT

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  4. guten tag,ich habe sie in austria(wiener neustadt) tanzen gesehen und sprechen gehört.ihre worte haben mich sehr viel gelehrt und zum nachdenken gebracht.es interesiert mich sehr die kultur der first nation`s von canada und nord america.ihre worte haben mich berührt .so habe ich mein leben geendert,und denke immer an sie und ihre worte. sie sind mein geistiger vater. ich hoffe es geht ihnen gut und sie sind grsund. ich habe eine frage an sie : da ich europäer bin,kann man im herzen trotzdem ein first naton native werden oder sein ?

    mitakuye oyasin

    michael

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  5. Thank you Ernie,
    You are such a gentle and wise man, I first met Ernie in 1974 at Westsyde Senior Secondary School, our school had us 5 native children and all proud of who we were as native peoples. We were fortunate to be able to have Ernie Phillips sing and dance and perform for our school, What a proud and beautiful moment. He explained why, when, how and what he had accomplished thru performing fancy dancing and traditional dancing throughout the world, educating different cultures our native cultures. thank you for your contribution to the world Ernie, yourself.

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  6. Hello Ernie, I am so, so pleased to have located you. I am a ‘google latebloomer’! I just decided, perhaps I could find you using google. I must say the photo of YOU is MUCH TOO SMALL. I would like to see more pictures of you!.
    I don’t expect you would remember me, after all these years,
    But I met you through the meetings of the Indian Homemakers in downtown Vancouver. My Mother & I attended for several months – (us just being whities) We met many lovely people there. I went in my little Austin out to Chilliwack to a big cultural day – as you had invited me, you were going to be dancing there. It was great. I bought a bead necklace
    there (not a design I preferred because all the best ones were sold by the time I got to the table. I used it for many years as much as I could match it to my clothes. It was red roses/green leaves on white bead background) I would have preferred an Native motif……..I gave it to my dear friend, Glida Morgan for her daughter Jade. So I know where it is & she can enjoy it. Perhaps you know Glida, she is very involved in current issues here. She & I are in the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir. We both love to sing & so cool, she comes from the Sliammon Tribe by Powell River, & I grew up on the ocean outside the Powell River municipality on the opposite side to where Glida was!!!……….amazing. I have a page out of the mill magazine – saved by my parents – I knew it mentioned the Sliammon Reserve & had a picture of 2 whales swimming off Grief Point (pic’s my Dad took with a black & white Brownie box camera)…so I located it, reread it & took it to Glida. Well, it was so awesome, she was amazed, her Dad’s Uncle was mentioned in the top paragraph – he had been the one who found the dead whale. That was one of the very early times of a people seeing one up close. And at the end, it mentions the pictures were from my father.
    You have met my parents – they saw you on the ferry going to Victoria & stopped to sit with you & chat. They knew you via me. I am sure you have forgotten that!…. Some 40 years ago.
    The last time I (& my husband & children) saw you was when you were dancing at Expo 86 – on the outside deck of Canada Place. You still recognized me at that time.

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  7. Well, I hope I accidentally hit submit, after writing so much!!!
    all of a sudden it was gone.

    I was saying how very, very glad I am to have located you, & that you seem well & happy – So wonderful. I have had the pleasure of knowing you.

    I recently asked if Glida Morgan knew if you were well or where you were……but she didn’t know.
    Please answer me. I would love to send you my scanned copy of the article of the whales & Glida’s great uncle.

    Please tell me if you rec’d the first long portion of this email (this is a 2nd one because I don’t know what happened to the first while I was typing!) computers can be frustrating.
    God Bless you – so glad you are well & still busy
    Judy Vanderhorst ……..when I met you, I was nearly 18yrs old – & I went to visit Chief Dan George in his home. I phoned him & we made a date – he was wonderful – lovely man.

    Post a Reply
  8. Hi Judy,

    I interviewed Ernie about five years ago. I remember it fondly. I am not sure if Ernie checks this page. So, you might want to try to reach him through his assistant, Doris Peterson, at the email address at the top of these comments. If you do, please send Ernie my best.
    devin, Editor of ITKT

    Post a Reply

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