Murray Smith is a Tsimshian elder who often opens for ceremonies in the city. He is also known as a family counsellor

Murray Smith is a Tsimshian elder who often opens for ceremonies in the city. He is also known as a family counsellor

STORY AND VIDEO: Elder-in-residence

At 11 years old, he left life at the cannery with his family and stepped on a train to go to school in a distant unknown place



At 11 years old, he left life at the cannery with his family and stepped on a train to go to school in a distant unknown place for the next three years of his life.

In 1953, when he came home for the last time, he got off the train in Port Edward and he could hear his mother scream — “Murray, Murray!” — as she ran toward him, her body shaking. In the months when he was gone, at the Edmonton Indian Residential School, his sister told him that his parents would fight and his mother would call for him.

Murray Smith (Algmxaa) is now 77-years-old. He is a former addictions and drug counsellor, a Tsimshian elder from the Lax Kw’alaams Band who often opens for events in the community and he just spent a week at the University of Northern British Columbia as the elder-in-residence sharing his memories of residential school, his knowledge and culture.

“What I remembered about the residential school is I learned to be very mean. I equate that to the mentality of a prison. We were locked in and the windows had thick wire screens. You couldn’t come and go,” Smith said.

In the summers, his father paid his way back to Cassiar Cannery, where they lived and worked. He was luckier than many of his schoolmates whose parents couldn’t afford to pay for their ticket back home.

He was also lucky to have a guardian angel at the school, a supervisor who took a liking to him and protected him from being bullied and molested by the school’s minister, James Ludford, who was later convicted of gross indecency and suspended for one-year to receive psychiatric treatment.

As an adult, he had the chance to visit the Edmonton school with his wife. When they approached the area, he remembers something inside of him changing.

“I didn’t know what was going on with me in my soul. I knew I was angry and I didn’t know why,” he said.

The demons Smith fought were not only memories of the school, they also came from a history of alcoholism and violence in his family. His mother had gone to Crosby Girls Home, the residential school in Lax Kw’alaams.

Smith completed his schooling in Port Edward after the new school was built there. His brother gave him a drink when he was 13-years-old, “Seagram’s 83, never forgot it,” he said. “When it hit my stomach my whole world changed. Why am I so afraid?” That first sip lead to a 40-year battle with alcohol.

At 18-years-old, he married Louisa, who worked in the cannery with him. They were together constantly, he said he never wanted to be away from her and 58 years later they are still married, with three grown kids.

But over the years, he continued to drink and lie to his wife. He said he never took responsibility for his drinking, until one day Louisa came into his room after he woke from a drinking spell.

“I want you to know how you hurt me. I can’t look at you because you hurt me so bad but I have it written down. I’m going to read it to you,” recalling what his wife had said to him. Then he said, a miracle happened.

“I heard a voice in my head. You can’t continue to hurt people the way you’ve been hurting them. It’s the end of a line.”

Smith said he’s never desired a drink since. He started a recovery program and attending AA meetings. He sought counseling, and went to a treatment facility.

In 2000, he went to school in Vancouver to become an addictions and drug counsellor. Then he returned to Prince Rupert to be a family counsellor at Northwest Band Family Counselling. Most of his clients were residential school survivors.

The work he did involved alcohol, drugs, separation, marriage and breakdowns. Louisa was also a counsellor in the community. In 2014, the counselling centre ran out of money and the couple have been retired since.

These days he works with elders at the Friendship House, where he used to be on of the Board of Directors. Smith has also been vocal about the need to protect salmon habitat in the Skeena River, and his concern for how a liquefied natural gas terminal on Lelu Island may affect the surrounding environment.

“Our voices weren’t heard by levels of government, provincial and federal,” he said. In May, he had the opportunity to attend the United Nations in New York and to speak his mind with other First Nations leaders from northern B.C.

His voice is hard to miss, even if he feels his words weren’t acknowledged. The captivating storyteller takes his time to tell his own history, and even in his retirement, his continued engagement in the community within the city and beyond begs more of his story to be told.

 

Just Posted

Prince Rupert’s Ellen Wright and Graeme Dickens jam out during filming the two Ring System Studio concerts to be broadcast on television during June. (Photo: supplied, H. Cox)
Ring System Studio sounds on television

Two concerts by the Prince Rupert music school will be broadcast in June

Commerical marijuana grow ops that are budding up in Prince Rupert’s downtown core are legal and out of the city’s jurisdiction, Mayor Lee Brain said, on June 14. (Photo:supplied/K-J Millar)
Prince Rupert downtown’s pretty dope

Marijuana operations grow in the Prince Rupert city core

Unionized longshore and port workers gather along Highway 16 on June 15 not crossing the picket line where Prince Rupert Solidarity Movement group protests the docking and unloading of the JPO Volans, a ship with Israeli designed technology and equipment. (Photo: K-J Millar/the Northern View)
Prince Rupert Solidarity Group pickets at port in protest

Demonstrations against the container ship JPO Volans lead into the second day to dissuade docking

BC Ferries has announced the welcoming back onboard of recreational travellers on June 15 after the provincial travel restrictions were lifted. (Courtesy of BC Ferries)
BC Ferries welcomes back recreational passengers

The ferries corp will relax mask-wearing in outdoor spaces

Nic Pirillo received $1,000 Youth WORK Apprenticeship Award presented to him by Erik Brooke and Catlin Chandler of Broadwater Industries, in front of the boat Pirillo built in his free time using newly acquired skills. (Photo: supplied)
Learning and earning with apprenticeship

Nic Pirillo graduated in 2020 and was awarded the Youth WORK Trades award

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits to failing to supervise his staff and find, report the shortage

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

Athena and Venus, ready to ride. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Goggling double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to B.C. commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. Cermaq’s application to extend leases and transfer smolts was denied. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)
Feds deny B.C.’s Discovery Island fish farm application to restock

Transfer of 1.5 million juvenile salmon, licence extension denied as farms phased out

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

Most Read