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Indian band in northern B.C. brings business profits to social development
LAX KW’ALAAMS, B.C.—Too many times, Garry Reece has seen that giving in to the harping voice that says you’ve hit a dead end can kill just as coldly as a razor-sharp knife. That murmur of defeat was echoing through this northern native community, getting steadily louder, through the late 90s gloom.
Just 50 kilometres from Alaska’s southern border, overlooking waters so pristine that pods of orcas and humpback whales are regular visitors in the misty bay, the Tsimshian village was trapped in a vicious cycle.
The band was sinking in multi-million-dollar debt. Few people had jobs. Suicides were rising. And the feds were threatening to seize control. With a knowing, told-you-so cynicism that still cuts deep, outsiders wrote the place off as a hopeless failure.
A visiting reporter wittily declared Lax Kw’alaams to be “the end of the road to nowhere.”
Reece is a hardened man with a soft, reticent voice. More than a decade on, he still hates those words.
They remind him of the dark days, when his people first elected him 16 years ago, hoping he would be the one to lead them out of the streaming muck of bad news and humiliation.
In his world, as in so many aboriginal communities across the country, despair is a dangerous beast. You don’t toy with it. Crippled hope can turn lethal just as suddenly as a wounded grizzly. The graveside tears usually fall for someone young, a kid with as much promise as his own son.
Reece, then chief councillor, was in Prince Rupert with his wife, attending a tribal council in 2000, when their son fell prey.
Just 17, Boyd took his own life. Some said he’d had an argument with a girlfriend four years his senior and decided he couldn’t live without her.
A young person killing themselves is frighteningly common in Lax Kw’alaams, also known as Port Simpson. Reece knew something bigger and much more menacing than a broken heart pushed his son over the edge.
“His self-esteem was way down and he hated the system,” Reece, now mayor, told me over a breakfast he barely touched. “I was going to quit politics. I just felt I should have been staying home with my family.”
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