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Corbett George: the Man, the Life, the Eldest Son
Corbett George, also known as "Mukpah", his traditional title, currently resides in Port Alberni, BC and hails from the Ahousaht First Nation. Translated “Ahousaht” means, “people (aht) of Ahous.” In his 64 plus years, Corbett, or "Corby" to those who know him has lived through and seen a great many remarkable changes throughout his life and his people.
Corbett was born on April 21, 1945. He grew up amid the pristine beauty of his Flores Island home off of Vancouver Island's west coast. He was born the eldest son of Chief Earl Maquinna George, hereditary Chief of the Ahousaht First Nation in the Clayoquot Sound.
His father, Chief Earl Maquinna George was a highly accomplished man. Upon leaving the Ahousaht Indian Residential School after 8th grade, he received traditional training from the elders at Maaqtusiis, as well as learning the skills of fishing and a sea-going life from his father, McPherson George. Corbett proudly tells of his father's service in the Canadian Armed Forces, nearly being sent into combat during World War II, being trained and stationed in Halifax..."He was getting ready to get shipped over, but the war ended...and he got an honourable discharge.”
In addition to his duties as Chief, Earl Maquinna George also worked as a logger and with the Canadian Coast Guard, eventually earning his skipper's papers. He lost his first wife to illness, and later remarried, taking responsibility for two large families. While taking on a major role in Nuu-Chah-Nulth treaty negotiations with the provincial and federal governments, and as an elder, began a university education, receiving a B.A. in history and an M.A. in geography from the University of Victoria.
His mother and widow to Earl Maquinna George, Mrs. Josephine George, a revered Ehattesaht and Ahousaht elder, is still involved with family functions. Most recently on March 6, 2010 she hosted a feast at the Hupacasath House of Gathering in Port Alberni honouring the more-than-fifty grandchildren of her family in a traditional naming ceremony. The ceremony is a show of love and respect in both those giving the names and the ones wearing the names, that it strengthens the connections with their house, as a vital part of keeping and maintaining the close family ties.
The current Tyee Ha’wiih, Maquinna (Lewis George) who acquired the seat from his late father only after first passing the seat to, Uu-qua-qruum - or Corbett, as is his English name, when Corbett encountered some difficulty in his life. Earl George took the seat back and just prior to his passing, he named his son Lewis as his successor at Hupacasath, and Corbett officially changed his name to "Mukpah". Corbett explains the name change because his previous title no-longer belonged to him. In November 2007, Lewis Maquinna George held a major potlatch to declare his seat; bringing together the “House of Hush-ee-ahrk-miss”.
Corbett goes on to explain he's better than okay with the hierarchy change, “There's a lot of work and expectations in being Chief of 1800 plus members. So it's better for them to have Lewis."
Corbett and his four brothers and three sisters were enrolled in the Port Alberni Indian Residential School where he was a student from the age of 10 yo until he was 15. George brings up the subject of his time at the residential school candidly talking about the physical, mental and sexual abuses that occurred to him, his siblings and his fellow students, and there is no malice in his voice...but rather a passive resignation.
“I would not like to forget...but forgive...it's unhealthy...it keeps many people angry a long time...it wasn't the church really that wanted to deny us our culture...it was the government (at that time) that got the church to deal with us.”