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Nuu-chah-nulth leader passes

AHOUSAHT, British Columbia - The Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island
are mourning the loss of one of their great leaders.

George Watts (Wah-meesh-mis) was one of the most well-known Native leaders
in British Columbia from the 1970s through to his death from a heart attack
May 31 at the age of 59.

Watts, Tseshaht, was instrumental in forming the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal
Council in 1973, a confederacy of 14 First Nations along the west coast of
Vancouver Island, and guiding its rise as one of the most powerful
political groups and Aboriginal social agencies in Canada.

Born Sept. 6, 1945, Watts lived on the reserve for most of his life except
when he attended the University of British Columbia, where he majored in
engineering and education.

Those familiar with Watts in the political arena knew him as a focused and
determined competitor, fiercely protective of his people and their rights
and unwavering in his work towards a brighter future - not just for First
Nations people, but for all of British Columbia and Canada. He was a
crusader for the just, an advocate for the unable and a passionate voice
for First Nations.

"We are reminded of the exemplary vision demonstrated by George; a vision
that has been instrumental in the work that our First Nations leaders in
British Columbia are engaged in today said Assembly of First Nations'
National Chief Phil Fontaine. "His spirit will continue to walk with us in
our journey toward the achievement of mutual dreams and visions we share
for our people."

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"George Watts was a First Nations leader who will be remembered for his
vision, courage and integrity," said British Columbia Premier Gordon
Campbell. "Mr. Watts' commitment to his community, his heritage, and to the
future of the Nuu-chah-nulth people set an example for all of us across
Canada, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.

"He played a defining role in moving the treaty process forward in B.C.,
but also in moving his community forward and inspiring young Aboriginal
citizens to believe in themselves and in their potential," he said.

Children and education were two of Watts' top priorities as a leader.
Whether working toward the establishment of a youth center in Tseshaht or
being a voice for children in Bolivia, he believed all children deserve a
chance in life and should be raised with love, compassion and respect.

He also sat on various boards and committees as one of two delegates
representing Canada at the International Labour Convention on Indigenous
Rights, serving as the Canadian delegate to the first Convention on
Fighting Racism and as a delegate for a number of years to the United
Nations Conference on Indigenous Rights in Geneva. On the home front, he
sat as lead negotiator for five of the 14 First Nations at the
Nuu-chah-nulth Treaty table and served as the acting chief councilor for
the Tseshaht.

Simon Lucas, council member for the Hesquiaht First Nation and longtime
friend, said: "When George Watts entered our lives, he was a much-educated
man. He used his intelligence to advance our people politically and
administratively. His humbleness kept in tone with our culture, and his
moolth mumps [roots] will always be remembered, especially his quest for
our people to get the highest education possible."

John Watson, head of the Federal Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, knew Watts
for almost 30 years. Even though they often sat across the negotiating
table from one another, he thought of Watts as not only a friend but as a
mentor. Watson said Watts always fought for the underdog and readily took
on difficult issues.

Watts dedicated his life to his family and his people; and although he is
gone, his relentless pursuit of justice will continue. As leaders from
across Canada noted at his "Celebration of Life" memorial, he will be
missed - but more importantly, he will be remembered forever.