Ferocity and compassion: Hesquiaht mourn passing of a leader

Eric Plummer, October 23, 2019

Richard Lucas’ lifetime of advocacy for his people ended with a term as chief councillor. Ha-Shilth-Sa is publishing this photo with permission from the family. (Eric Plummer photo)

Port Alberni, BC — 

Nuu-chah-nulth communities were shocked to hear of the sudden passing of a Hesquiaht leader on Monday, leaving many to wonder how the man’s combination of compassion and fierce advocacy for his nation will ever be replaced.

Richard Lucas was found in his home at Hot Springs Cove on Oct. 21, after several calls by family and friends went unreturned. The cause of death has yet to be finalized, but Bruce Lucas said his brother likely had a heart attack.

“He did a lot for our family, our tribe,” said Bruce. “He always looked after us, all of us, right until the very end.”

Among the roles he served for the Hesquiaht were numerous terms as chief councillor, the most recent stint Lucas had been serving since 2015. Ha’wilth Vince Ambrose had worked with Lucas since the 1990s.

“He knew the issues when it came to fisheries or health or all that we deal with for our community and our nation,” said the hereditary chief. “It kind of looks like he passed away in his sleep.”

Lucas came from a generation that still remembers when the First Nation’s main reserve was in its home territory at Hesquiaht Harbour, at the northern end of Clayoquot Sound. At the age of seven he was enrolled in the Christie Residential School on Meares Island, where he remained until 1965. At the age of 16 Lucas quit school to return to family, and as a young man moved to Hot Springs Cove, where the Hesquiaht had been relocated in the early 1960s. Most of the village was destroyed in the 1964 tsunami, but in 1967 a house was available where Lucas could live with others to work in the logging industry.

Despite the absence of a gym, basketball was a big part of these years, recall those close to Lucas.

“He was an incredible jumper,” said Bruce. “He was shorter than me and he could play against the big guys.”

Lucas’ playing time ended with an injury, but this began his legacy as a coach. Bruce was on the Hesquiaht Warriors when they won the Junior All-Native Tournament in 1977.

“He wasn’t just our coach, he looked after us,” said the brother. “All the players he coached, he maintained a special bond with them.”

Throughout his adulthood Lucas’ leadership continued. He served as the Hesquiaht’s chief treaty negotiator and treaty office manager for several years, as well as multiple terms on elected council.

“We’ve had our ups and downs dealing with political decisions and stuff like that,” reflected Ambrose. “It goes with any leadership; we always have to iron out our differences, but we’ve always worked good together.”

Lucas’ more recent work includes the development of a hydroelectric project in Hot Springs Cove. By harnessing the natural flow of Ahtaapq Creek, the run-of-the-river initiative is designed to lessen the remote community’s reliance on diesel for power, which is regularly barged in from Tofino at a cost of over half a million dollars annually. That project currently hinges on federal assistance for completion.

Lucas witnessed the collapse of West Coast fishing – and how First Nations lost their place in the industry as regulations became insurmountable. During a Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries in June he delivered a stern address to officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, declaring that the Hesquiaht would be implementing their own controlled sea otter harvest as a measure to manage resources in the territory.

“We look after the hahoulthee,” said Lucas. “If Canada won’t cooperate with us, then I think it’s time we took some action and we shut down the sports fishery.”

“The Nuu-chah-nulth have lost a great leader and warrior for our people,” said NTC President Judith Sayers in a statement. “Richard made a lasting impact on Nuu-chah-nulth-aht. We won’t forget him and his tireless efforts to make our lives better for many generations to come.”

“I’m just devastated, to be honest,” admitted Gord Johns after winning the Courtenay-Alberni riding in the federal election on Oct. 21. “He was persistent and he advocated so hard and from his heart for the people of Hesquiaht, for Nuu-chah-nulth people.”

Despite his tough stance on some issues, Bruce saw his brother become more compassionate in his senior years.

“His role never really changed,” said Bruce. “He’d phone me at least once a week.”

Nuchatlaht Councillor Archie Little also attended residential school for many years. He shared with Lucas the desire to make a better childhood for the young ones around them.

“We had a hard life, very hard to communicate sometimes, very angry sometimes – but we worked on it,” said Little.

“He was my best friend,” he added. “The part that I like best was that my friend could be like a little boy and laugh like a little boy.”

Richard Lucas turned 70 on Oct. 6.

He leaves behind eight children: R.J., Tammy, Dawn, Ander, Orlena, Kathy, Jeannette and Jared. He is predeceased by his son Alexander.