Traditional marriage vows protect against domestic abuse

Heather Thomson, January 16, 2018

After being together for over a decade, Brian Lucas and Molly Clappis have looked to the traditions of their ancestors as they vow to protect one another when the couple are formally married on Jan. 20 at Maht Mahs. (Holly Stocking photo)

Port Alberni — 

For more than a decade Brian Lucas and Molly Clappis have raised a family together. They taught their daughter Maddison what it means to be First Nations and the importance of their culture and language.

It was a strong commitment and one they both honour and respect. But, early in December, Brian made a promise that will unite the two families and make them stronger.

Next month the couple will formally tie the knot, but before that happens, it was important to both families that traditional ways be followed.

“This kind of thing is important to me and Molly,” explains Brian. “We want to make sure we do it right because that shows respect for our ancestor’s ways and carries on the traditions of generations before us.”

Molly is Huu-ay-aht, and her mother, Clara, lives in the west coast traditional territory of her people – Anacla. Brian comes from the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, near Gold River. Although both reside in Port Alberni, it was important that traditions were followed as closely as possible. Traditionally, when a man wishes to marry a Nuu-chah-nulth woman, the groom must canoe to the bride’s traditional home and ask her family for her hand.

Brian explains that, because they have been together for many years and have a daughter together, it is not appropriate to canoe to the community. And so, on a very cold December morning, Brian and members of his Lucas family drove to Anacla to ask for Molly’s hand in marriage.

Brian explains that it was important to respect Huu-ay-aht’s traditions. Since meeting Molly, Brian has become a Huu-ay-aht citizen and is respected within the community as one of the key male voices in a drumming circle. He wants to keep the culture and traditions of both his nations alive, and carrying out traditional practices for all to see is an essential part of this.

“If we want to keep our traditions alive, we have to practice them,” he explains.

Brian and his family travelled together from his homeland in northern Vancouver Island to Anacla. When they arrived they were greeted at the entrance to the village by the Tayii Hawilth Derek Peters and the women of the Peters family, who act as beach keepers of the traditional lands. The first step was to ask the keepers of Huu-ay-aht’s Hahoulthee permission to carry out business on their land. They also brought riches from their land, salmon and elk, to share with the Peters family.

Once permission was granted, they sang and drummed their way into the community, under the escort of the head hereditary chief’s family. Brian said this was an important step because they wanted to announce their arrival to Molly’s relatives.

Brian said they were dressed in their regalia, as his family descends from the head chief family of his nation, Norman George. First they sang the songs of his nation to announce who they were and showcase his family to Molly’s community. They also brought Molly’s family gifts and traditional food.

For five hours they sat outside Molly’s mother’s house in the cold. They sang and danced to both of their nation’s. It was a test, Brian explains. Molly’s family was ensuring he was strong, patient, and committed.

“It was their way of testing us,” Brian says. “I had to show how much I care for her – how much we care for each other – and that I would take care of my family.”

He explains that the first to speak to them was the women of the family. They spoke of the importance of teaching traditions and culture to the female family members. They asked how Brian would take care of the women in his family. He said it was up to him to let Molly’s family and community know how much he cared and how committed he was to uniting the family and “acting as one.”

Brian says it was a difficult day. It was so cold and damp that at times it was hard to focus and maintain a level of consciousness needed to carry on. But he did just that by relying on the strength of the bond between him and his future wife. They stayed strong by focusing on their traditional songs as well.

“Our culture makes us stronger,” he says. “As long as we have that, we can accomplish anything.”

After some discussion, the Tyee and elected chief Robert J. Dennis Sr. decided a vow was to be made – one that would unite the families and make the union strong for many generations.

Molly’s mother Clara asked her daughter what was important to her when it comes to her future. She told her mother that she wanted to go to a place that is safe and full of love – one that is free of domestic and family abuse.

“And so, together we vowed to end all lateral violence and abuse within our family,” Brian says proudly. “I made that vow knowing it would make us stronger – it would make all of us stronger for generations to come.”

Brian and Molly both agree it is a bold vow, one that will be difficult. It is also one they believe can change their family forever. They hope that by setting this example both Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Huu-ay-aht will be stronger.

Robert Dennis is proud that this couple has made such a strong commitment to each other, their families, and their people.

“We want a safe community,” the chief explains. “That starts with each of us saying we will no longer tolerate violence and abuse in our community.”

Derek Peters says the vow made prior to their wedding is one that shows just how strong Brian and Molly are in their commitment to each other and as a family. He also points out that their promise to each other is one his nation is making as a whole.

“As a blended family we are responsible to take care of all of our family members. Brian has promised to take care of each other’s children as if their own and to build a happy community. This vow goes even further and will make us all stronger,” Derek says. “I’m responsible for making sure this promise goes both ways.”

Brian and Molly will carry their vow with them in their hearts and minds as they stand before friends and family on Jan. 20 to get married. Brian says the promise they made to each other in December will make their vows in January more meaningful.

“We aren’t just vowing to be together forever,” he says. “We are vowing to create a better future. That’s pretty powerful.”

Molly and Brian would like to invite family and friends to witness the traditional ceremony with a potlatch style celebration after dinner. It takes place at Maht Mahs at 1 pm on Jan. 20.