PORT ALBERNI (Monday, May 2, 2016) - A man of huge importance to modern Nuu-chah-nulth history has died. Nelson Keitlah was one of the original leaders of the West Coast District Council, which became the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC).
Keitlah was often referred to respectfully as ‘The General’ for his ability to lead the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in negotiations with the Federal and Provincial governments.
As Central Region Co-chair of the NTC, Keitlah participated in, and led Nuu-chah-nulth Treaty negotiations for a decade, and was instrumental in the formation of the Central Region Board for cooperative resource management on the west coast.
He represented the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations through the ‘War in the woods’ protests in Clayoquot Sound, and stood against MacMillan Bloedel when they proposed to log Meares Island.
“He was a true leader in every sense of the word,” said former BC Premier Glen Clark. “Meares Island was one of the first big victories for First Nations land rights, and one of the key break-through moments for First Nations in Canada,” he said. “It was epic.”
Keitlah, who was from a Chiefly family, was appointed by the Ahousaht Ha’wiih (Chiefs) to sit on their first band council as mandated by the Government on Canada in the 1950’s, according to former NTC President and Ahousaht Chief Negotiator Cliff Atleo Sr.
“He was so much more than just a leader,” said Atleo, who worked closely with Keitlah for 35 years. “He was a keeper of our histories, knew the intricate details of our culture, and was one of the last great speakers of our language,” he said.
Keitlah, along with George Watts (Tseshaht), and many others fought for the establishment of the NTC.
Current NTC Vice-President Ken Watts, and son of the late George Watts, called Nelson “the cultural foundation of the organization”.
“He gave us permission to use his family’s victory song, which he composed and is now known around the world as the Nuu-chah-nulth anthem,” said Watts. “He was a diplomat and a feared negotiator, and was the language and cultural pillar of this organization,” he said.
“He was a strong, compassionate leader, and a loving and supportive family man,” said NTC President Deb Foxcroft. “His wisdom and knowledge about Nuu-chah-nulth history and modern NTC politics will be greatly missed.”
Keitlah passed away peacefully in his sleep Sunday morning at the age of 82.