Bill Cranmer died in his Alert Bay home on Wednesday at the age of 85.
Bill Cranmer was known for repatriating cultural objects, helping preserve ‘Namgis culture, language
· Posted: Jan 06, 2024 5:37 PM EST | Last Updated: 8 hours ago
Former ‘Namgis Nation chief Bill Cranmer, pictured here in 1999, was instrumental in having some 750 traditional objects returned to the nation from private collections and museums. He died on Wednesday at the age of 85. (Submitted by U’mista Cultural Centre)
Respected hereditary chief Bill Cranmer is being described as dignified and larger than life by loved ones following his death this week at the age of 85.
Cranmer, known by the traditional name T̓łaḵwagila, was hereditary chief of the ‘Namgis nation. He died in his Alert Bay home on Wednesday, Jan. 3, surrounded by friends and family, according to his long-time partner Lisanne Granger.
Over his life, Cranmer led the repatriation of cultural objects that were confiscated in 1921, during a potlatch ban. Federal authorities arrested participants in the traditional ceremony, held by many northwest coastal First Nations to mark a range of milestones, including naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals.
Cranmer was instrumental in having some 750 traditional objects returned to the nation from private collections and museums. He was also known for his advocacy in preserving the ‘Namgis culture and language.
On The Island7:02An exhibit is opening at the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay this weekend marking 100 years since community members were put on trial for holding a potlatch.
Kathryn Marlow spoke with Bill Cranmer, the Chair of the U’mista Cultural Centre and a hereditary chief of the Namgis First Nation.
“I view Bill as an example of how we should carry ourselves in this world,” said Shelley Joseph, Cranmer’s niece.
Joseph describes her uncle as dignified and hardworking, adding she remembers him always lifting others up and keeping the peace through turmoil.
“To know that he’s no longer with us physically, it’s truly heartbreaking.”
Joseph says she admires her uncle’s work advocating for wild salmon farming, and his work around revitalizing the Kwakwaka’wakw language, which he was fluent in.
For instance, Cranmer spearheaded his nation’s plans to rear salmon in a land-based recirculating aquaculture system — something he argued was better for wild salmon, as an alternative to open-net salmon farms.
She recalls her uncle’s presence as a leader and community member, adding he attended almost every community event, from ceremonies to potlatches to birthdays.
Cranmer spearheaded his nation’s plans to rear salmon in a land-based recirculating aquaculture system, something he argued was better for wild salmon, as an alternative to open-net salmon farms. (Lieutenant Governor of B.C. )
She says Cranmer led their community alongside her father, former Gwawaenuk chief Robert Joseph, with grace and dignity.
“He was a piece of the fabric of who we are. He was a bridge from our old people to where we are today,” said Joseph.
“I’ll forever be grateful to him.”
Our hearts are heavy with knowledge of the passing of our respected Elder, Tlakwagila, Chief Bill Cranmer.
We extend our deepest condolences, love and support to Tlakwagila’s family in this time of mourning. pic.twitter.com/mmgU63oBOV
Lisanne Granger, Cranmer’s long-term partner of almost 26 years, described him as thoughtful and down to earth.
“He was very much a private, down-to-earth, Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights type guy,” Granger said.
But she says he could also be larger than life.
“His personality was just so large with engaging other people,” she said. “He was a living legend.”
Cranmer was awarded the B.C. Reconciliation Award in 2022 for his efforts in the “sustainment of the ‘Namgis First Nation language and culture,” including by fighting to have the cultural objects returned and by raising awareness of the importance of his language.
Granger said Cranmer died in his own home, surrounded by family and friends, as he wished.
Pushing the envelope
Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, says in addition to being an iconic leader, Cranmer was a good friend and mentor, and that his death leaves a hole in his community.
“He just did so much for so many people.”
Smith says Cranmer was always pushing the envelope on reconciliation and was highly respected by many around the world.
“You try to walk through the room with the guy and it takes an hour to get from one end to the other because everybody wanted to talk to Bill and get his input on things,” said Smith.
Smith says Cranmer was well-rounded, having served in the Canadian Air Force and owned a cafe in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, near Port McNeil in northeast Vancouver Island. He says he will remember the smiling look Cranmer always had on his face.
On The Coast10:39Remembering former Namgis Nation Chief Bill Cranmer
Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, helps us remember the life and legacy of Bill Cranmer, a longtime advocate for reconciliation and a former chief of the Namgis Nation.
“If more of us achieved to be a little bit like Chief Bill Cranmer, I think our world would be a better place,” said Smith.
Premier David Eby wrote in a statement Friday he was deeply saddened to hear of Cranmer’s passing.
“Our condolences go to the Cranmer family, ‘Namgis First Nation, and friends,” reads the statement.
“His contributions to ‘Namgis Nation and Indigenous culture are immeasurable and will never be forgotten.”
With files from On The Coast
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