Addictions awareness message sent as family dries tears at memorial potlatch

Campbell River, BC

It has been a tough three years since the loss of her son, but Anita Baker summoned the strength to gather her family to celebrate the lives of her son, Trevor, and mother Margaret Jack of Kyuquot, BC.

Margaret Jack, born May 1, 1940, lovingly raised her family from her home in Kyuquot, then, later in Campbell River. She was the daughter of Emile and Sophie Jules, connecting her to the Tyee Ha’wilth of Kyuquot, Christine Cox. She married fisherman Leo Jack, raising seven children together.

Anita Baker, nee Jack, said her mother passed away in 2016 after a battle with cancer. The family had planned to host a memorial potlatch for her a few years later, but the COVID-19 pandemic struck, preventing people from gathering for more than two years.

Sadly, Baker lost her only son, Trevor Jack, age 31, in April 2020. He died in Victoria, of an overdose. “He wasn’t a regular user of street drugs,” said Anita. She wanted people to know that you don’t have to be living in the streets to die of a drug overdose – occasional users of street drugs are probably more vulnerable to overdose since they haven’t built up tolerance to substances.

Baker said her son had a chronic injury that affected his feet, preventing him from walking distances. Over time he put on weight. “He smoked weed and drank a lot,” said Baker, but she never knew of him to do hard street drugs.

When the pandemic lockdown started in 2020, Trevor, like many others, applied for and received CERB, the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit, which was intended for Canadians who lost income due to the pandemic. Eligible Canadians received up to $2,000 every four weeks.

“He was locked up at home and had all this money, so he just drank every day,” Baker recalled.

When he missed his birthday celebration in April of that year, he told his mother that he was hit hard by the death of a friend a few days before. “He was going down a dangerous, dark road, and I scolded him,” said Baker.

So, it was a shock when she learned that he had overdosed on street drugs. “I believe he was drunk when he did it,” said Baker, adding that he knew how bad drugs are and was so against it.

With the support of Indigenous Outreach Workers in Victoria, Baker laid her son to rest, and they helped to plan the joint memorial for Trevor and his grandmother Margaret.

“He was so kind, loving and perfect, he was a mama’s boy,” said Baker.

She admits this is the first time she has ever planned and hosted a potlatch. “I still carry the grief and pain, but, for me, this is a way to release the pain and lift myself out of grief,” Baker told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

She had the support of cultural leaders living in Victoria, Guy Louie Jr., Calvin Louie and Peter Charlie. She also had great support from family. “We broke apart when we lost our parents, but we all came back together for this – I know my parents are so proud,” said Baker.

The Drying of Tears potlatch started shortly after 11:00 a.m. with the hosts blanketing people that have recently suffered losses in their families. Once the floor was ceremonially cleansed, the family performed a dance, indicating that their mourning period had ended.

They concluded by bringing out portraits of their loved ones, Margaret and Trevor.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Guy Louie Jr. announced that it was hard for them to be there and to be strong, but it needed to be done to honor their loved ones. He thanked the guests for accepting the invitation to the potlatch.

The hosts, through their emcee, spoke about the dangers of illicit drugs and how suddenly and finally, lives are being lost. Guests took the opportunity to share their thoughts on addictions and sobriety.

“Addictions cause so much pain and loss, but there’s resources out there to help people on the road to sobriety,” said an elder Johnson family member.

After feeding the people lunch, guests paid respects to the memories of Margaret and Trevor by performing their dances and speaking of the love they have for them. According to Baker, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people rocked the house with their performances.

As the day wore on, more and more people began showing up. “We had 350 chairs, and we ran out of chairs!” said Baker.

Eugene John’s Kyuquot dances were also brought out. “They were amazing songs and dances,” said Baker.

“Everything was so beautiful. I loved it,” she added. “I just felt all the love and appreciated all the people that came to hold us up.”

Baker says she still thinks of her son daily and talks to him. “I know he’s always with me. He’s not suffering, he’s not hurting. He’s happy,” she said.

The potlatch concluded sometime after 3:00 a.m. with Kyuquot’s Tyee Ha’wilth, Christine Cox’s dance.

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