Driving along Beach Road in the San Juan River Valley, surrounded and shaded by towering Sitka spruce, I think back to the day in 1976 when I first met Chief Charlie and Mrs. Jones, or as they were more familiarly known, Hereditary Chief Queesto and his kindly wife Ida.
Invited into their frame cottage in the Pacheedaht village, we began a series of visits where we learned a little about the early days of the First Nations in the San Juan Valley.
According to family lore, Queesto was born in 1876, making him 100 years of age when we met. I will never forget what a privilege it was to listen to such a dignified, gifted raconteur as Queesto speak of his childhood, of the days when Europeans were beginning to stop by the little village on the inlet.
Chief Queesto said his family had been chiefs for 11 generations.
He grew up in a traditional longhouse, recalling that it was 60×100 feet of cedar. His two sisters, princesses, married into other tribes; his sister Kathy married into the Nootka people, while the eldest sister Annie married Andrew Lazzar and made her home in Sooke. Annie would be the great-grandmother of today’s elected T’Sou-ke chief Gordon Planes.
It was through the Hudson’s Bay Company that the Pacheedaht people were introduced to money, though payment was often made by blankets, beans, rice and molasses.
Chief Queesto described how his grandfather had fished for dogfish, which when cooked, produced fish oil which they sold in barrels. Besides the Hudson’s Bay post in Victoria, the barrels could also be sold at Sooke or Becher Bay.
In 1900 when he was in his early 20s, he accompanied his father on a hunt to the Bering Sea for pelagic seals. In his own canoe, he fished for halibut, salmon and cod, also steelhead. To feed their families over the winter, the fishermen needed to provide one fish per person per day, which the women would dry or smoke and store in the longhouse.
While Queesto spoke mainly of fishing, his wife would show us how to harvest grasses and weave baskets. Hospitable Ida generally had a bunch of grandchildren at her feet – the kids eager to learn crafts from her, but also eager to place their crayon drawings on her refrigerator.
When venerable Queesto passed away in 1990, he was recognized as 114 years of age. His son Charles Jones, who passed away in 2009, carried the hereditary title as well. Today the Pacheedahts elect their chiefs, and their current Chief Jeff Jones is a member of the extended Jones family.
The lives of Queesto and Ida Jones had bridged two cultures, and done so with great charm and distinction.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.