Tributes flow for treasured Tsleil-Waututh Nation Elder Ernie George

·5 min read

There are many teachings Slá’hólt, Hereditary Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Elder Ernest George, passed on to his students in his time.

One that he hoped would stick was for them to "Love and respect each other. To understand each other. To learn about each other."

Heartfelt condolences and messages are flowing on social media for the deeply respected Elder, known fondly by the community as Ernie or Iggy, who made his way to the creator this week.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Leah George-Wilson shared on Twitter on Nov. 12 that her father had “left this earth smoothly” on Nov. 11 at age 80. She wrote that relatives had gathered outside her house to sing for her dad and immediate family came together to talk, sing and say goodbye.

"Thank you all for being like the champ my dad was," she wrote.

A treasured Knowledge Keeper, community leader, father, grandfather, great grandfather and Capilano University elder-in-residence, Elder Ernie was known for his loving, supportive ways and for sharing his wisdom to all.

#NativeTwitter, hay ce:ep q̓a si:əm Thank you all for being like the Champ my Dad was. Our relatives here on the Rez were outside my house to sing for Dad. Immed. Fam inside-talked, sang & said goodbye. He left this earth smoothly - I told him how you used your gifts to help \0/— Leah GW (@GWLeah)

Born Feb. 5, 1940, Elder Ernie lived all his life on the Tsleil-Waututh inlet and was passionate about his home, family, and passing on the history of the ancient Nation. He was also a survivor of St Paul’s Indian Residential School in North Vancouver and advocated the importance of Reconciliation.

In 2009, at the age of 69, he became one of the first elders-in-residence at Capilano University to support the school’s Indigenous students.

With a heavy heart, Paul Dagerfield, university president, shared the news with the school community in a release on Friday.

“For the past 11 years, we have been privileged beyond knowing to have Elder Ernie’s wisdom, humour and kindness reflected in the spirit of the CapU community and the ‘warm feeling,’ as he called it, of the Kéxwusm-áyakn centre — the gathering place he was integral in helping to develop on our main campus,” he said.

“His gentle voice served on many CapU committees and helped us to understand the past, care for the present and consider the future in our decisions and our actions.

“A residential school survivor, Elder Ernie shared the truth of his experiences, opening hearts and minds to painful realities and the importance of Reconciliation.”

Dagerfield said Elder Ernie considered students as his grandchildren and loved to answer their questions with stories from his own life and the Elders who came before him.

In a short video, The Inlet, made by the university as part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2018, Elder Ernie expressed his love for the land, the water and his people, sharing stories from his past.

“The old people used to say when the tide went out the table is set. Anything that we needed was right here, we didn’t have to go nowhere for it,” Elder Ernie said in the video.

He spoke fondly of canoeing in the inlet and how his father, a canoe champ, trained him how to paddle.

“In my teen years my dad was a single paddle champ and a double paddle champ. He trained us the way he trained,” he said.

“Once you’re on the water, you get a feeling.

“I’d be out there in my single paddler by myself thinking about all my ancestors that paddled this water, and just thinking about where they were going, what they were going to gather there, or how long they were going to be staying there.

“It just seems like I can hear them, and I can feel them. I can picture and hear my dad out there.”

Now, Elder Ernie’s stories and teachings will live on through everyone who had the opportunity to learn from him.

Taehoon Kim, university photographer, shared one of his teachings on Twitter.

“When I asked Elder Ernie what he wished students would learn from spending time with him, he said: ‘Love and respect each other. To understand each other. To learn about each other’,” he wrote.

In tribute posts on Twitter, David Kirk, university Indigenous faculty advisor, sent his love to Ernie’s family, sharing how he would “treasure” the moments they spent together and the teachings he shared.

“I have been honoured and grateful to have had the last decade to share time with your Dad,” he wrote.

“He shared so much with the Capilano U community with his many teachings. He will be missed by many. I will treasure the many visits we had.

“He is truly loved by so many at the university … Sending my love to your family.”

Dagerfield said in the weeks and months ahead, the school community would reflect “further upon the meaning of our time with Elder Ernie and how we will sustain not only his memory, but his connection to Capilano University.”

“There is much more to share and to learn from Elder Ernest George, for now our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to his family and the Tsleil-Waututh people,” he said.

Immediate family will gather for a funeral on Monday.

Here are some of the tributes on social media:

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Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News