Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors
"I can name seven generations back in our family." -- Chief Charles Jones
Charlie Jones’ co-written memoir Queesto, Pacheenaht Chief by Birthright (1981) is one of four titles that launched Theytus Books, it was co-written with a Hollywood film producer and it provides a rare, first-hand account of Aboriginal life on Vancouver Island in the nineteenth century.
Chief Charles Jones of the Pacheenaht tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation was born on July 7, 1876. As a boy of six or seven, he began attending the missionary school at Clo-oose where they changed his name from Queesto to Jones. He first used a Winchester .44 at age nine and began hunting for game at age ten. He attended a school at Neah Bay for two years before being sent to the Coqualeetza School in the Fraser Valley, travelling from New Westminster to Chilliwack on the Beaver. There he stayed among 189 Aboriginal students for two years until he quit around age twelve.
The food was bad, the Coqualeetza teachers had arbitrarily put him back three grades and the students were forced to do farm labour. “In those days, Indians could only go as far as Grade Eight in the residential schools anyway, and that’s not enough education. That was what they did to the Indians in those days—they wouldn’t let them get past Grade Eight.”
In 1900 Jones worked for four months as a traditional pelagic seal hunter in the Bering Sea, harpooning seals from a dugout canoe for the Victoria Sealing Company. He came home with $1,000. He became chief of his tribe in 1921. That same year, after two years of planning, Charles Jones held his first potlatch for eight days, building a new longhouse for the occasion. His appreciation of his Aboriginal heritage was ingrained from a grandfather who had owned many slaves, had hunted whales with a harpoon and had eight potlatches in his lifetime.
As well, Charlie Jones’ father had raised him in a traditional Pacheenaht longhouse. The family traveled extensively in their 60-foot canoe and made money catching sea otters. “You could go right around Vancouver Island with a canoe if you carried enough food,” Jones wrote. He claimed his father once loaned money to the Hudson’s Bay Company when their trading post went broke. “The manager of the trading post in Victoria, a man named Jack Godman,” Jones recalled, “asked my father if he could borrow $5,000. So my father lent him the money, and within seven months the Hudson’s Bay Company paid him back the $5,000 with another $200 for interest.”
For about 50 years, Charlie Jones worked in many facets of the logging industry and later owned and operated his own fishing boat, the Queesto. In retirement he took up carving dugout canoes and masks. In 1974, at the request of the Provincial Museum, he made a six-man canoe.
Before he died in 1983, at age 107, Jones co-wrote his memoir Queesto, with Stephen Bosustow, a Hollywood animator and film producer born in Victoria. Bosustow first came to the Pacheenaht Reservation near Port Renfrew in July of 1976 to visit his cousin, Roberta Bosustow Jones, who had married Charles Jones Jr., son of Chief Charlie Jones. The Chief had just celebrated his 100th birthday earlier that same month. “The name of my family is Queesto,” Jones told Bosustow, “a name which means Chief of Chief over all Chiefs.”
Along with the memoirs of Charlie Nowell and Hank Pennier, Queesto is an exceptionally readable account that has not been unduly filtered, and Jones’ longevity makes it particularly valuable. He recalls childhood games from the 19th century, slavery, the coming of Christianity, hunting and fishing methods, foods gathered from nature, folk stories, potlatches and other customs. “The white man buries his dead in the ground,” Jones explains, “while the Indian puts the body up in a tree. The white man could never understand why we did this. The old people didn’t think that there was any use in telling them that if they buried their dead in the ground, the wolves would get the scent, dig the body up and eat it. Even if the dead person was put in a coffin, the wolves would dig the whole coffin up and break up the wood... So that’s why we put our dead up in the trees instead of burying them—there was no religious reason, it was just to keep them out of reach of the wolves.”
Jones, Charles & Stephen Busustow. Queesto: Pacheenaht Chief by Birthright (Nanaimo: Theytus Books, 1981)
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005]