Elder Harriet Nahanee Dies After Release from Jail
Elder Dies After Release from Jail
[Press Release follows article below.]
by Zoe Blunt; Sunday, February 25 2007 @ 02:51 PM - Infoshop
[Note: The orignal article from Infoshop, above, contains links providing additional information.]
VANCOUVER - A community is in mourning following news of the death of a great-grandmother who fought to defend aboriginal rights and the environment. Activist Harriet Nahanee died at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on Saturday, February 24, one month after she was sentenced to fourteen days in jail for protesting the destruction of a wetlands for a highway bypass.
The woman who once said that natives need an “aboriginal Malcolm X” to restore their pride will be sorely missed by many, including her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Nahanee, age 71, was weak from the flu and asthma when BC Supreme Court Justice Brenda Brown ordered her to the Surrey Women’s Pre-Trial Centre in January.
Nahanee was hospitalized with pneumonia a week after her release from jail. Then doctors discovered she had lung cancer. A news release on Sunday, February 25 briefly announced Nahanee’s death from pneumonia and complications.
Fellow activist and great-grandmother Betty Krawczyk, age 78, was among those who attended a prayer vigil for Nahanee Friday night. “Me and Harriet really bonded” at the Eagleridge Bluffs blockade, she told me. “We were the only great-grandmothers there. It was up to us to bring it forward.”
In January, Krawczyk urged Justice Brown to refrain from sending Mrs. Nahanee to jail. “I am very worried about Mrs. Harriet Nahanee,” Krawczyk wrote. “Mrs. Nahanee is not well. She has asthma and is suffering the after effects of a recent bout of flu that has left her very weak.”
On March 5th, Justice Brown will sentence Krawczyk for her own part in the Eagleridge Bluffs protest. Krawczyk expects to be sent to the same Surrey jail as Nahanee.
“Harriet believed Eagleridge Bluffs belonged to the Squamish Nation, and she felt her band – the elected chiefs – were trading the land away for development,” Krawczyk told me by phone from Vancouver. “She wanted the land preserved for her great-grandchildren. She put her life on the line for that.”
Krawczyk reports that Nahanee was “challenging the right of the elected chiefs of the Squamish Nation to negotiate away traditional Squamish Lands off the Squamish Reserve, lands that include Eagleridge Bluffs. This action potentially has serious ramifications for the entire band concerning who has the right to negotiate away traditional Squamish Indian lands,” she wrote in her blog.
Nahanee was born on the Pacheenaht Indian Reserve on Vancouver Island in 1937. Along with the other children on the reserve, she was taken from her parents at age 5 to live at the Ahousaht Residential School. Five years later she and 300 others were transferred to Alberni Residential School. In 1998 she testified about the horrific abuse she and other native children suffered, including beatings, rape, and murder.
According to Lloyd Dolha, Nahanee reported that children were punished for singing their traditional songs and speaking their own language. They were so poorly fed that they were beaten for stealing vegetables from the root cellar. She disclosed that she was sexually abused for four years in the school.
“I didn’t bring it to mind until 1984, when my daughter committed suicide. Then I began to look at myself. Why was I addicted to alcohol? Why wasn’t I a good parent?” When Nahanee visited a psychiatrist she told him, “I think the church and the government did this to us deliberately in order to take the land and resources. It was all about keeping us dysfunctional, to keep us dependent.”
On December 24, 1946, Nahanee witnessed an altercation between Rev. A. E. Caldwell, and a female supervisor at the top of a staircase at the school. They were arguing about a little girl who was running up and down the stairs.
“Mr. Caldwell was always drunk. You could smell the liquor on his breath all the time,” Nahanee recalled.
“He kicked the little girl and she fell down the stairs and died. That’s murder. There were other kids in the infirmary who had their appendix burst. That’s murder. Other children were beaten so badly they died. That’s murder. No one bothered to take them to the hospital.”
“The worst part of it was the loneliness. When you’re a little kid and you can’t reach out to your mom for a hug – it really hurts. It’s a wound for a lifetime,” said Nahanee.
On February 23, the day before Nahanee’s death, the Indigenous Action Movement held a rally and prayer vigil for Harriet. Amost 100 people gathered outside the Supreme Court for a ceremonial walk to St. Paul’s Hospital.
The group prayed with drums and sang the Women Warrior’s Song outside Nahanee’s hospital room to give her support and strength. They brought flowers, cards and a picture of the Larsen Creek Wetlands at Eagleridge Bluffs before they were demolished.
Details about Nahanee’s memorial have not yet been confirmed by her family.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2007
EAGLERIDGE PROTESTER (Harriet Nahanee) DIES
Some time after 7 pm on Saturday February 24, 2007,
Native Elder and Eagleridge Protester Harriet
Nahanee died from pneumonia (complicated by
previously undiagnosed lung cancer) in St. Paul's
Hospital. She was 71. On January 24, 2007, despite
her frail health, Harriet was sentenced to 14 days
in the Surrey Pretrial Centre, a men's prison and a
notorious hell hole for women. It is believed she
developed pneumonia during her incarceration and was
admitted to St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver a week
after her release.
In a letter to Justice Brenda Brown prior to the
sentencing of Ms. Nahanee, Betty Krawcyzk urged
compassion: "I am very worried about Mrs. Harriet
Nahanee. Mrs. Nahanee is not well. She has asthma
and is suffering the after effects of a recent bout
of flu that has left her very weak".(1)
On February 23, 2007, The Indigenous Action
Movement held a rally and prayer vigil for Harriet
(photo's are available compliments of Isabelle Groc
at: http://members.shaw.ca/idoumenc/harriet/ ).
Approximately 80-100 people gathered at the Supreme
Court Building for a ceremonial walk to and around
St. Paul’s Hospital. A prayer vigil was held
outside Harriets’ hospital room, with drumming and
the Women’s Warrior Song to give Harriet support and
strength. A large signed picture of the Larsen Creek
Wetlands at Eagleridge Bluffs (as they were) was
taken up to Harriet following the ceremony along
with flowers and cards. Further information about
Harriet Nahanee’s struggle at Eagleridge Bluffs can
be found on at: German First Nations Website
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
(APTN: Feb 23, 2007) http://www.aptn.ca/streaming