Lorina Jim

Lorina Jim

Tribal elder walks for her people

The Whonnock people have said if the Kwantlen won't help them, they may seek their independence.

The rain relentlessly pursued Florence Thomas as she walked along the side of Lougheed Highway, passing cars slowed partly in curiosity and partly because a Ridge Meadows RCMP cruiser’s cherries flashed as escort.

The 66-year-old great-grandmother made the 20-kilometre trek from Albion to Mission recently to symbolize the struggle of her people, the Whonnock tribe, whom she says have been neglected and forgotten.

The Whonnock used to preside over 2,000 acres from Alouette to Stave, and south to the north bank of the Fraser. They now exist on a 92-acre reserve with three other parcels of land administered by the Kwantlen, whom Florence says largely ignores their plight. The Whonnock used to be independent, but were merged with the Fort Langley tribe under the Kwantlen umbrella in 1929.

“My walk of hope is a brighter future for all my families who are homeless today. Not homeless like on the street, but we haven’t had a house built on Whonnock reserve for over 20 years,” said Florence.

Florence has been without a house since 2003, when health inspectors condemned it because of mold. She was placed into native housing but was forced to leave because she had too many grandchildren living with her.

She was placed into native housing but was forced to leave because she had too many grandchildren living with her.

With four daughters, four sons, 27 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, Florence has a large family, many of whom struggle to survive on and off the reserve.

In Halkomelem, Whonnock (pronounced “honnock”) means a place where many frogs make thunderous noise, according to Florence’s eldest son and chief, Robert Thomas.

Thomas, 42, goes by the hereditary name Xatsten and is estimates there are 60-80 people remaining in their tribe. He, too, is “homeless,” after his house burned down last year and there are no funds to replace it.

“I understand where my mother’s coming from because at her age she shouldn’t be homeless like this,” said Robert.

Living off a pension, Florence says she doesn’t have enough money to buy a new home, and the Whonnock pay the Kwantlen what little they have.

She said when she returned to her home with bleach to try and kill the mold, it had been stripped of anything useful (doors and sinks), and any possessions left behind were gone. The house, made mostly of wood, later burned down.

Florence, whose aboriginal name is Quay-na-wit, grew up in both modern-day Maple Ridge and Mission. As a child she was seized by the state and placed in Mission’s St. Mary’s Residential School for Indians at Heritage Park for six years.

It was a time when the First Nations peoples were not allowed to participate in their traditional ways. She feels the Whonnock are still deprived of that right today.

“The ultimate goal here is to reestablish our footprints back on our traditional territory and our lands so that we can live again and live the way we used to. The old people say if you don’t know your history, you’re lost,” said Robert.

Florence called her April 30 journey her “walk of hope.” It is a hope that someone, somewhere, will come to the aid of her people.

Just Posted

Emergency services were on the scene of an apparent stabbing Friday afternoon (June 11) in the 2400 block of Countess Street in Abbotsford. (Photo: Kaytlin Harrison)
Two suspects arrested after apparent stabbing in Abbotsford

Incident occurs Friday afternoon in 2400 block of Countess Street

City of Mission hosting a virtual and in-person open house to explore Silverdale plan

It’s the first neighbourhood planning area of the larger Silverdale Comprehensive Planning Area

Hutch Hotels Ltd., which owned the former Alder Inn (which was demolished in November 2020), is among the defendants in a lawsuit related to an alleged impaired-driving crash in January 2017. The civil suit also names S & L Kitchen and Bar in Abbotsford. (Black Press file photo)
Two Fraser Valley bars named in lawsuit related to alleged impaired-driving crash

S & L Abbotsford and Alder Inn being sued by passenger in 2017 rollover collision

With a lot of summer traffic expected, RCMP are setting up traffic blitzes throughout the Eastern Fraser Valley to curb dangerous driving behaviour in cone zones. (Submitted by Road Safety at Work)
See orange cones? Better put down your phone!

12 roadside workers died, 207 were injured in B.C. during last 10 years

Stock photo from Pixabay
Abbotsford Police warn about scam phone calls that display their name

Caller claims victim’s identity has been compromised and they need to send money

How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Lorraine Gibson, 90, received a COVID-19 immunization at the South Surrey Park and Ride vaccination clinic. (File photo: Aaron Hinks)
Surrey has had 25% of B.C.’s total COVID-19 cases

Surrey recorded 4,012 cases in May

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Most Read