Any journalist who had occasion to deal with Musqueam Chief Ernie Campbell knew him as gruff, to the point, and without much patience for mealy-mouthed media questions, such as “why are you so tough on those poor, non-native leaseholders?” He rarely returned calls.
Those same reporters were regularly baffled when the Chief’s persistent political rival, former chief and media-friendly Gail Sparrow, would get trounced every time she ran against the taciturn incumbent, despite all those allegations of skullduggery she would launch in every direction.
During his 14 years at the helm of his people, Chief Ernie Campbell was one tough nut, a warrior at the negotiating table and in the courts, who rarely came away from any dispute without carving another notch in the Musqueam arsenal of rights.
But the hundreds of mourners gathered Wednesday morning to pay respects to the veteran chief, who died last week from diabetes complications, heard about a different Ernie Campbell, or “Big Ern”, as he was known to many on the Reserve.
At the front of the cavernous, community centre gymnasium where his memorial took place was a warrior war canoe that was one of Chief Campbell’s “chief” passions. There were also soccer pictures, and an array of trophies from his youth as a middleweight boxer, both from Golden Gloves and Buckskin Boy competitions. One was awarded to “Most Scientific Boxer”. His second daughter recalled her father giving out some fisticuff advice, as a life lesson. “Let them throw the first punch, then hit back.”
Outside the gym was a heartfelt sign from Musqueam school children. They knew Chief Campbell only as the man who picked them up every weekday in a yellow school bus. For 40 years, far longer than his tenure in the rough-and-tumble of local native politics, Chief Campbell, in addition to all his other duties, was the Reserve’s school bus driver. The kids’ sign, festooned with hand-drawn hearts, read: “We love and miss our old chief and wish he were here.”
Grand Chief Edward John said he couldn’t count the number of times Chief Campbell would leave a leaders’ meeting or important native gathering, with the explanation: “I have to get the kids home.”
While the walls carried pictures of Chief Campbell meeting the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, members of the British royal family, Emperor Akihito of Japan, IOC president Jacques Rogge and our own political leaders, most of all he was remembered by those close to him as a family man, as a dad.
His three daughters and one son each paid their own emotional, teary tribute to a father they said they would miss forever. He taught them so much about life.
A moving video shown at the end of the long, moving service had barely any photos of Chief Campbell doing his work as Chief. Instead, they showed him with his wife Carol, his kids, his grandkids, with friends, almost always with a big rumpled grin on his face — at home, at the lake, on holiday, by the Christmas tree, and blowing out candles on innumerable birthday cakes.
At the end of it all, as a Musqueam Warrior Song escorted his flower-draped casket out of the gym, it was hard to imagine anyone leading a more complete life than Chief Ernie Campbell, dead too soon at 72.
And a nice piece here by the CBC’s Dan Burritt on Wednesday’s memorial. Recommended.