More than 1,500 people showed up Thursday to pay their respects to Esquimalt Nation’s Hereditary Chief Andy Thomas, who was well respected and loved.
He existed in many different worlds and it was clear by the turnout that his unexpected passing was a tremendous loss not only for his community but for everyone who knew him.
Esquimalt and Songhees Nation’s Liason officer, Const. Cole Brewer, said he will always respect Thomas for not ever being afraid to speak his mind.
“The void here, I can’t even put it into words you know and I’m an outsider, a friend. I’m a guest in the community. I’m not a community member, I’m not a family member. I know how I’m feeling and I can just imagine how they are,” said Brewer.
Born and raised in the Esquimalt Nation lands near the Township of Esquimalt, Chief Thomas led his community for 47 years.
At his beautiful service filled with tradition, his family and friends said goodbye but National Chief Perry Bellegarde says his legacy as a leader will no doubt continue to shape the future of his people.
“Truth and honesty and love and respect courage humility and wisdom, all those things those words describe Chief Andy Thomas. The young leadership now can look to him as a role model, a leader of how he conducted himself and if they can emulate that, how he conducted himself, I think the people here will be in good hands,” said Bellegarde.
Thomas was a man who put his nation on the map and knew the importance of standing up for his people. He will long be remembered as a champion for Indigenous rights.
“There were things that he would say no matter whoever he met with government officials of whatever, he was always’ you guys are on our territory and we expect our rights to be acknowledged,'” said long-time friend Bruce Parisian.
“His impact on the rights recognition and treaty enforcement, treaty implementation, he’s laid the foundation, so we have to continue on with the great work that he’s laid,” said Bellegarde.