He was 10 years old when he saw a cedar chief’s hat being placed on his father’s head, marking the generational transfer of the Happynook hereditary chieftainship. On Nov. 4, 2023 Tommy Happynook Jr., with his own 10-year-old son standing by his side, stood proud as his father placed that same hat on his head, marking the official transfer of the Hup in yook seat from one generation to the next.
“Today, I passed on my Hereditary Chieftainship and Hupaqwinum to my eldest son Tommy, who now carries the name Hup in yook and I go back to Mexsis, Mauksisanoop - Sperm Whale Hunter,” Mexsis (Tom Happynook Sr.) wrote in a social media post.
Happynook says his house, čaačaac̓iiʕas, is part of the Huu-ay-aht amalgamation made up of the eastern tribes of Barclay sound.
“We are the head whaling family,” said Mexsis, adding that his son now holds the third seat in the Huu-ay-aht nation.
This Tiquuwiłtuuła was especially important for the family given the relatively recent history of an attempt to cancel the cultural order of čaačaac̓iiʕas governance.
It was in 1959, said Mexsis, when his grandfather Billy Happynook fell ill and landed in the hospital. While there he was visited by a cousin and converted to Christianity, said Mexsis. Immediately afterward, the minister in Bamfield went to the Happynook home, collected the Ha’wilth regalia, piled everything on the beach and burned it.
According to Mexsis, what was destroyed was his father’s Hupaqwinum, the items used to show their history, perform their chiefly duties and show what is theirs.
Starting from scratch, Mexsis started to rebuild the Hupaqwinum.
“I’ve been putting it together over years,” he said. “I was able to gather 13 pieces of Hupaqwinum that was on display in front of guests.”
According to Mexsis, the pieces of the Hupaqwinum allow Ha’wiih to conduct their cultural business publicly. It could include shawls, masks, rattles, songs, chants and ceremonial curtains.
All of these items were handed over to his son, Tommy at the Tikawith potlatch, which he said is the seating of a chief and the highest form of Nuu-chah-nulth ceremony.
When asked how a Ha’wilth knows it’s time to pass his seat on, Mexsis answered that the decision is up to the sitting chief.
“He keeps an eye on his replacement and teaches him as he’s growing how to be a Ha’wilth.”
The young future Ha’wilth is taught values and morals that the Happynook live by.
“In our family we’ve been taught to pass it while people are still alive, ensure there are no questions about succession,” said Hup in yook.
“I knew Tommy was ready after he got his PhD,” said Mexsis. “It’s time. He is well educated, well spoken, thinks about things carefully and I am excited and happy to pass it on.”
The ceremony took place at the Hupacasath House of Gathering on November 4.
“We chose to have our potlatch at the Hupacasath House of Gathering because they are my family,” said Mexsis. “My great grandfather Mauksisanoop (Sperm Whale Hunter) had four sisters.”
One of his sisters married into the Bill family from Hupacasath.
“I always feel comfortable and safe in their house,” added Mexsis, thanking them for allowing the family to do their important business in Hupacasath’s homelands and house.
With hupakwanim and curtain on display to an invitation-only crowd, Mexsis sat in front of the curtain with his son, Tommy, and grandson Mahihkan, age 10.
“When I put the whaling hat on his head, the transfer was displayed to all the people that were there as witnesses,” said Mexsis.
It was an especially important moment in history because, according to the Happynooks, it’s been over 100 years since their Hupaqwinum has been shown.
Hup in yook (Tommy Happynook Jr.) was grateful that they were able to take care of this important business, saying they couldn’t bring out their Hupaqwinum until now.
“We’ve started a process of reclamation – we are reconnecting to our hahulthi (chiefly territories/resources), to our house members and to those that joined after the implementation of our treaty,” said Hup in yook, referring to when the Maa-nulth Final Agreement came into effect on April 1, 2011.
The Hup in yook songs, according to Mexsis, were lost. Nobody could remember them.
“Our songs were never passed on,” said Mexsis, adding that the songs record history and tell of important events.
It is difficult to accept that this happened over the decades, but all is not lost. Hup in yook, in preparing to step into his new Ha’wilth role, made two new songs.
Hup in yook said that over time he came to the realization that Nuu-chah-nulth songs are their way of recording history. The songs tell very important events.
He wondered how people come up with these songs. Hup in yook realized it was through experiences and so he set about creating songs anew, based on family history.
“One is about our family becoming part of Huu-ay-aht… and the other is about coming home and taking care of the hahulthi,” he shared.
The Happynooks have other plans for their house. In reclaiming responsibility of a Ha’wilth, Hup in yook says it is important to reconnect to their hahulthi and also reconnect with their house members.
“Two wonderful families in our house are the Sports and Johnsons and we are beginning the process of naming them all,” said Hup in yook.
This is part of ensuring that all members of the house are recognized. The members will have traditional roles as the Ha’wilth works to rebuild the house.
Hup in yook says that, with the Johnsons and the Sports, they have amazing singers and dancers. With their help, the family will continue to grow their house in a positive way.
Another order of business is to update the ceremonial curtain.
“We will need to add an image on Tommy's curtain to document this event,” said Mexsis.
And with the seating, names have changed.
“Tommy is now Hup in yook. And I have gone back to Mauksisanoop, Mexsis for short. Mauksisanoop means sperm whale hunter,” said Mexsis.
The Happynooks thank all the people that came to witness the historic event. That evening after arriving home from the ceremony, Mexsis wrote: “It is with deep pride and deep love that I introduce to you Dr. Tommy Happynook (Phd) and as of today, November 4th, 2023, cha cha tsi us (name of house), ta'yii ha'wilth, hup in yook. I am really happy, excited, and looking forward to your future accomplishments. Love you, Son. Remember to be kind, thoughtful and compassionate.”