With the passing of Squamish Elder, Chief Simon Baker, British Columbia lost one of its greatest cultural figures. In Khot-La-Cha : The autobiography of Chief Simon Baker, author and educator Verna Kirkness, described Baker as “an ambassador of his own culture and the human spirit.” Simon Baker was indeed these things and much more. He was the last of the great “North Shore Indians,” famed for their achievements in Canadian lacrosse during his youth of the 1930’s. A dedicated husband and family man, Baker worked as a longshoreman for forty-one years, eventually rising to the position of superintendent of Canadian Stevadoring. He was a prime mover in organizing the first public pow wows and sporting events for Canadian First Nations. A tireless volunteer, Simon Baker served as spokesperson for countless community projects and organizations.
Chief Baker served as councillor to the Squamish Nation for over 30 years, ten of which he served as chairman. So revered by his people, he was the only Squamish member designated “Chief for Lifetime.” He is the recipient of numerous of numerous awards and special recognitions. He was a two-time recipient of the British Columbia Centennial Award of Merit for 1958 and 1971. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1977 and was granted an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the University of BC in 1990. He was a revered elder for the First Nations House of Learning and the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) at UBC for many years, sharing his wisdom through stories and songs. He assisted in fundraising for the UBC First Nations Longhouse through his extensive network of contacts.
In May 1999, Chief Baker was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame as the only surviving member of the celebrated ‘North Shore Indians’ of 1936 for recognition of his achievements as “Cannonball Baker,” star lacrosse player of the team. In March 2000, Chief Baker received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Heritage and Spirituality.
As an ambassador of West Coast aboriginal culture, Baker travelled across western Europe, New Zealand and Japan throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, promoting aboriginal culture and heritage to the world. In his autobiography, Simon explained the importance of family and home in the retention of his cultural heritage.
” In order for me to keep the teachings of our elders, I had to keep coming home. After I left school , I had to accept the things that my grandmothers keep reminding me of, my grass roots. I tried to practice what they taught me, keeping up my culture from the teachings of my elders. I was glad to listen, to obey and practice our way. I still have the knowledge, wisdom and philosophies of our elders. I had to keep learning my own culture, my language.”
Khot-La-Cha, his Squamish name for ” Man with a Kind Heart”, is survived by his wife of 71 years Emily, one sister, nine children, 38 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild. He passed away on Wednesday, May 23, 2001.