Words

Si’am Tsi’li’xw

Honoring the hereditary chief of Lummi Nation

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Editor’s Note: I would sit quietly in the small north shore home of Tsi’li’xw Bill James while he taught the art of weaving and language to the many children of Lummi, giving name to people and places. It was an unforgettable experience of patience, kindness and deep love for the future of his people. All who wished to learn were welcome in his home.

“Bill helped young people in tribal communities to have a deeper connection to their ancestry and their cultures. He raised awareness of native art and language and his legacy will live on for generations,” Gov. Jay Inslee wrote at the passing of the hereditary chief of Lummi Nation. “Bill was a teacher of all and was a gentle, yet strong voice for the Lummi people. He holds a place alongside other transformative tribal leaders that preceded him in death such as Billy Frank Jr., Stan Jones, Sr., and many others.”

A transformative leader until his passing June 1 at age 75 from a hereditary liver disease, Chief James was “a spokesman for his people on the front lines of some of the most important fights of a generation,” and a dauntless champion of the extended family of creatures that populate the Salish Sea.

Sii’am e ne schaleche.

Our hearts are heavy with the loss of our Nation’s Chief Si’am Tsi’li’xw, our respected elder, teacher, relative and friend.

Our beloved Chief Tsi’li’xw cared deeply for our Nation and our people. He dedicated his life to learning from his elders about our history, language and culture. He knew the importance of capturing the life experience and knowledge of our ancestors.

Our Si’am Tsi’li’xw was a highly honored person among our Lhaq’te’mish people along the Coast Salish tribes and into Canada with our First Nation relatives. He was well-known as a master weaver and language teacher.

Tsi’li’xw was generous with his knowledge. He had a gentle way of speaking that still conveyed the importance of the knowledge he shared. When he spoke, people listened with patience and a thirst for what he had to share.

Tsi’li’xw is recognized for his work including: the revitalization of our Xwlemi’ Chosen, the revitalization of the Blackhawk singers, his time spent with our youth, his contributions to gathering information from our elders, his knowledge of our stories and techniques with storytelling, his knowledge of our ancestral lands, his artistry with cedar and wool weaving, his cultural knowledge and much more.

Tsi’li’xw served Lummi Nation in any way he could. He was appointed to complete a term on the Lummi Indian Business Council and continued to offer guidance to the Council whenever called upon.

When he spoke, he often shared stories about his family and of growing up in the Lummi Sto’lo Village on the Nooksack River. He had multiple stories of how our families worked together and took care of the elders. The elder’s values and teachings were instilled within our beloved Chief Tsi’li’xw, the same teachings he passed on to each of us.

Tsi’li’xw was also one of our main elders that carried the knowledge of our family lineage. Tribal members would go to his home to visit and learn about their family tree. He also carried the wisdom and knowledge of our traditional names and took part in many naming ceremonies.

We are grateful for the time Chief Tsi’li’xw spent with us, teaching us Xwlemi’ Chosen and sharing his knowledge. His wisdom will live on within all of us. Through his stories, love, compassion and teachings, we each carry a little piece of him in our walk of life.

He will continue to live on through us and especially our youth, while they practice the song and dance he taught them. We will always be reminded of everything he has given to us. Chief Tsi’li’xw will be forever in our hearts.

Lawrence Solomon is Chairman Lummi Indian Business Council

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