Since Time Immemorial is a recurring series featuring community members whose families have been here since time immemorial. The ancestral knowledge carried by Lhaq’temish, Nooksack, and other Coast Salish peoples is knowledge about how to live in our shared home in a good, lifesustaining way. We live in a time when we need to restore our relationship with Mother Earth and with one another. We are grateful for these stories, told in the words of each featured individual.

Quatz’tenaut Candice Wilson is the Tribal Policy Director at the Washington State Department of Health. She previously served as Executive Director of the Lhaq’temish Foundation, was on the Ferndale School Board, and was elected to three terms on the Lummi Indian Business Council.

How do you like to introduce yourself?

Ey’skweyel Si’am e ne-schal e che Si’am Quatz’tenaut se ne sna che Xwlemi’-sen. Good day friends and family. I am Candice Wilson from Lummi Nation. I was born and raised at Slyeksen, Sandy Point, where my mother’s father inherited the land from his mother Theresa (Forsyth-Kwina) Finkbonner. Growing up on the shores, running barefoot in the sand and splashing in the water, climbing the trees and running in the fields, all sent me off to a good start.

That sounds like a lovely childhood!

My father always said, “Don’t go to bed mad at your siblings or your family.” So as difficult as it is sometimes, that’s what we tried to do. My mom always says, it’s the little things that matter most. “The good will lift you up, and the bad will bring you down.” So to look for those good things in life.

How did you come to be where you are today?

I went to Lummi Headstart, which really brought all us kids on the reservation together, we grew up like brothers and sisters. Then the Ferndale public schools. I was a single mother for a while out of high school, but I eventually graduated from Whatcom Community College. Right around the same time I met my husband. I never thought I’d leave the community, but when you marry somebody in the military, the orders come up and you have to relocate. So we went to San Diego and then Honolulu.

What was that like for you?

Oh, we fit right in with our Hawaiian relatives with song and dance, my children participated in luaus and hula and barbecues. My youngest child was born over there. It was awesome. When my husband retired and we came back home, I knew I could find a job easier than my husband. I said, okay, well, I want to wear my red lipstick, I want to drink my coffee, and I want to talk on the phone. So I want to be a receptionist or I want to be a politician.

(laughs) You do have the best lipstick.

Well, and I did become a receptionist. I worked at the Employment and Training Center and then I worked my way up in different jobs for Lummi. Next thing you know, I was running for tribal council. I served three terms.

So you became a politician, too!

I was so fortunate to sit at the table with our tribal leaders, like Uncle Jimmy Wilson. His advice always was “a little bit of love goes a long way.” He always tried to base decisions around being thoughtful, kind, and taking care of our people with love. And Uncle Willie Jones. His teaching was to always keep in mind the past, present and future of our people. And then there was Uncle Freddy Lane, who always kept his sense of humor, reminded us that sometimes we had to pause and take a break with love and laughter. These elders have all gone on. My job is to keep those teachings, to share them with the next generation.

You were on Council when Lummi Nation successfully fought against the massive coal terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen / Cherry Point. You were on the Ferndale School Board getting the Since Time Immemorial curriculum implemented.
You’ve been a part of some big changes. But I’ve also heard you tell stories about how you’ve seen an offensively named item on a menu and called the restaurant owner, or you heard about racist graffiti at a school and you made sure that it was not only erased but properly addressed, or when you saw well-intentioned but hurtful language on a
ballot, you went to the source to have it corrected. What are your thoughts?

I learned that I have to speak up because of what my elders endured, what they went through. I always ask myself, “Who am I not to say something?” We have to be willing to stand up to make change even in small places, because sometimes the small places mean the most, like my mother would say. I’m fortunate to have a voice that carries and that’s loud. Sometimes I know I probably get myself in trouble. But you know, hopefully it’s in a good way.

Hy’shqe, Quatz’tenaut!