A sombre saxophone solo, singing sisters and children carrying bright sunflowers greeted the more than 1,000 mourners at the Musqueam Community Centre Wednesday morning for the funeral of the band’s former chief Ernie Campbell.
The focal point of the room was a coffin adorned with red and white flowers in which Campbell would be laid to rest. The tenacious former leader of the Musqueam Indian Band died Oct. 26 from complications related to diabetes. He was 72.
Surrounding the coffin was a row of paddles, flowers shaped into the word, “Dad,” woven rugs, and Campbell’s boxing gloves and robe. Campbell was a Golden Gloves title-holder, soccer player and coach and loved to canoe.
Campbell’s large family filled the front rows of the auditorium, including his wife Carol, their children and spouses, his siblings, grandchildren, in-laws and numerous others. Attending the service were representatives from municipal, federal and provincial governments, First Nation elders and chiefs, members of the Vancouver Police Department and a large number of journalists.
The emotional service began with a group of students placing bright yellow sunflowers at the foot of Campbell’s coffin. For 40 years Campbell drove a school bus that picked up and delivered Musqueam children to and from school, and it was a group of these students who had asked permission to take part in the service. On the wall outside the auditorium the children had posted a hand-written sign which read, “We love and miss our Old Chief and wish he was here.”
Mount Currie Indian band chief Alan Stager played a solo saxophone version of “Amazing Grace.” Turning towards the coffin, Stager addressed Campbell with, “It’s show time Ernie,” donned a pair of sunglasses and played the popular hymn. Following Stager’s performance, five Point sisters gathered at the front of the hall to sing two songs for “Uncle Ernie,” including “Lord Help Me Jesus (Why me Lord)” and “God on the Mountain.”
Campbell was known as a fierce negotiator when it came to seeking rights for the Musqueam and in 2008 negotiated and concluded two significant agreements. The first was the Olympic Legacy Agreement with the federal government that ensured the Musqueam people a share in the economic, social and cultural benefits of hosting the 2010 Winter Games. The second was the landmark Reconciliation, Settlement and Benefits Agreement signed with the provincial government.
Campbell was fiercely protective of the band’s right to fish. In the summer of 2000, when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans placed a ban on salmon fishing, the leader took to the Fraser River in defiance of the government. As members of the Musqueam lined the river drumming and singing, a DFO officer attempted to pull in Campbell’s net from the boat from which he was fishing.
Calmly repeating the words, “It is my ancestral right to fish these waters,” Campbell stood his ground and began a game of tug of war with the officer. The standoff ended only when the DFO member pulled out a large knife and hacked the net into pieces.
Campbell served as chief of the Musqueam for 14 combined years, choosing not to run in 2012. His death comes less than a year after he decided not to seek another term as chief. Campbell’s son-in-law, Chief Wayne Sparrow, replaced him as leader last December. Sparrow told the Courier in an earlier interview that Campbell said at the time, “my fight was done” and he wanted to turn the leadership over to someone else in the band.