Esquimalt Nation loses hereditary Chief Andy Thomas

Esquimalt Nation loses hereditary Chief Andy Thomas

A tireless advocate for Indigenous rights, Chief Andy led the people of the Esquimalt Nation for 47 years

The hereditary chief of the Esquimalt Nation, Seenupin, Chief Andrew Thomas has passed away.

For 47 years, Chief Andy – as he was often referred to – led the people of the Esquimalt Nation, before he died suddenly at his home early Saturday in his seventy-first year.

Born and raised on Esquimalt Nation lands, Thomas helped create the Assembly of First Nations and served on the executive of the First Nations of South Island Tribal Council.

“Despite what the world thinks, we have not lost our culture,” he wrote on the Esquimalt Nation website. “However, because our culture was tied to and sustained by our lands, we must find new ways to give it voice.”

A tireless advocate for Indigenous rights, Thomas helped establish Salish Sea Industrial Services Ltd. to provide training and employment opportunities for his nation.

In 2007, he was honoured with the Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award from Royal Roads for his work to make Esquimalt Nation prosper.

Most recently, Thomas was proud to see the new branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library given a Lekwungen name, honouring its location in what is now known as James Bay.

In a statement, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps called him an “inspiration” whose “legacy will live on as we continue to walk together on this new path of truth and reconciliation.”

“Chief Thomas was a champion for his people,” the mayor said. “Grappling with the ongoing legacy of colonialism, he became dedicated to ensuring a prosperous future for the youth of his community.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins called Thomas “an incredible leader” who was integral to her journey in understanding reconciliation and the issues of colonialism. “Andy always held his cards close; he never disclosed all he was thinking, but he was a very generous heart and a genuine person,” she said.

The timing of his death is particularly hard for the Esquimalt mayor, who had recently been in discussion with Thomas in an effort to ensure ongoing communication between the nation and the township.

“It’s really sad that we’re not going to be able to [partake in] further discussion with Chief Andy Thomas, but we’ll certainly endeavour to work with Esquimalt Nation when they are ready and when they are able,” she said.

Speaking to Victoria council, Thomas once said: “Reconciliation is your work, your responsibility. We will work with you, guide you and share the labour but it is your burden to carry, and you must do what is needed to put that burden down, piece by piece.”

School District 61 board chair, Edith Loring-Kuhanga, member of the Gitxsan Nation, said in a statement, she asked for Thomas’ blessing when she decided to run for school board trustee.

“He empowered me to stand up for the interests of First Nation children,” she said. “He believed in empowering our youth to maintain their cultural heritage and identity in order to survive in today’s complex world.”

Thomas is survived by his wife Mary Anne, their children, Maureen, Ed, Mike, Matthew, Louie, Andrew and Mary Anne Jr., as well as grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. A statement from Esquimalt Nation asked that the family’s privacy be respected but a public funeral service in the Esqimalt Big House (1189 Kosapsum Crescent) is planned for April 12 at 9 a.m.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

Esquimalt Nation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nikita, a four-year-old German Shepherd that was attacked by a buck in a backyard in Esquimalt Sunday is lucky the injury wasn't more severe. (Photo contributed by Suzette Goldsworthy)
Esquimalt dog owner issues alert after deer injures German shepherd

Nikita needed stitches after an early morning encounter

Capital Regional District Animal Control say an eight-month-old Rottweiler bit a Langford mother and her child near Glen Lake on Nov. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Large dog attacks mother and child in Langford

Mother puts three-year-old on top of car to protect him

(Black Press Media file photo)
Police arrest man covered in blood on heels of significant Saanich crash into woods

Resident calls in home invasion in progress after crash

The Victoria Police Department headquarters. (Black Press Media file photo)
Investigation launched into man’s death after arrest in Victoria

IIO investigation to determine if police actions or inaction played a role in the man’s death

Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read