ROBERT SAM: Songhees chief was committed to community

Late First Nations leader wanted the best for the people under his charge and care

Songhees Nation Chief Robert Sam

When Chief Robert Sam walked into a room, everyone knew it was time to get down to business.

“As soon as we saw him drive into the parking lot, someone would shout, ‘Chief’s coming!’ And we’d all scatter to our offices and make sure we were busy,” said Jackie Albany, director of operations for the Songhees Nation.

Albany knew Sam as a great mentor and seasoned political negotiator, a man who drafted his own letters and never minced his words.

“In negotiations, he just said what the Songhees community needed and that was it, there was no negotiating,” said Albany, who worked closely with Sam for more than two decades.

Sam, 76, died on Monday morning at Victoria General Hospital after complications following a stroke.

Among his many accomplishments was being the driving force behind federal government negotiations that advanced the Songhees to stage 4 of a complicated treaty process.

He was also a founding member of the First Nations Finance Authority, a member of the Association of First Nation Chiefs Committee on Treaties and a board member of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

He developed bylaws for his community on property tax, fire protection services and negotiated an education agreement with the Greater Victoria School Board.

But it is Sam’s character and deep commitment to the Songhees Nation that is most deeply missed by the Greater Victoria community.

“He scared the heck out of me, but his humour was unbelievably dry and wonderful and he always had a twinkle in his eye,” Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said at a council meeting on Monday.

Desjardins said Sam was a progressive and tough negotiator who was passionately driven to build a sustainable future for his community.

“You always knew that he was going to push you to your limits and you just always knew what he was thinking. He will be sorely missed.”

The municipal flags in Esquimalt and Victoria were lowered to half-mast on Monday to commemorate Sam.

“We are all heartbroken,” said former Victoria mayor Alan Lowe, who forged the first formal relationship with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations when he took office in 1999, by inviting both chiefs to city hall.

“(Chief Sam) said I was the first mayor that invited him into my office to meet,” Lowe said.

He recalled Sam’s sense of humour.

“One time we had a fun challenge where we would have a race in the Inner Harbour. He brought his group of paddlers in a canoe and I had a group of paddlers on a dragon boat.

“We beat Bob hands down and he quipped at the end of the day, ‘Next time I’m going to bring men with me, as opposed to boys.’”

During Lowe’s term, Sam and Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas started to attend all the major city events.

“He definitely wanted to tell the world that the Songhees Nation was alive and well,” Lowe said. “(His death) is a huge loss to the Songhees First Nation.”

NDP leader Adrian Dix and Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis chose to remember Sam in his own words from 2006:

“The strength and wisdom of our past leaders have served to get us to where we are today. The vision and commitment of our people will help us achieve our goals for tomorrow.”

Albany said she is working closely with Sam’s “huge family” to arrange a memorial service for Sunday, July 15 at the Songhees Nation Longhouse.

– with files from Roszan Holmen

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Just Posted

BREAKING: Reports of a shooting on Happy Valley Road in Langford

Reports of a shooting in the 3400-block of Happy Valley Road in… Continue reading

Esquimalt requests public feedback as it plans for plastic bag ban

An online survey aims to gather information before the ban comes into effect in January 2020

Pacific FC puts its best foot forward for inaugural game

Players ‘counting down’ to kick-off day

Belmont students help West Shore residents spring out of hunger

Spring Out Of Hunger food drive takes place on April 24

Motorcyclist taken to hospital with undetermined injuries after crash in Oak Bay

Two-vehicle collision occurred Tuesday morning shortly before 11 a.m.

What’s age got to do with it? B.C. couple with 45-year gap talks happy marriage

An Armstrong couple that has 45-year age gap began turning heads after being featured on show Extreme Love.

Wanted by Crime Stoppers

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Fish farming company launches $30-million vessel to treat salmon for sea lice in B.C. waters

Freshwater treatment an improvement but fish farms should be removed from sea, says conservationist

Singh says childhood abuse steeled him for scrutiny and stress of politics

He recounts the assaults for the first time in his book Love & Courage

Despite five extra weeks’ parental leave in Canada, dads still face stigma: survey

One reason people said dads don’t need leave is because they can just bond with their kids at weekend

Vintage bottles, magic cards, a 1969 Playboy: Quirky items found in historic B.C. buildings

Crews set aside some of the funkier pieces emerging from the construction rubble

PHOTOS: Inside the ‘shoe house’ in Northern B.C.

A rare look inside the famous Kitseguecla Lake Road shoe house, with a tour led by owner Toby Walsh

Thieves steal five of Seven Dwarves ornaments honouring B.C. couple’s late son

For the second time in a year, several garden ornaments stolen from Cloverdale family’s front garden

UPDATE: Missing kayakers located safe and sound in Welcome Bay

Pair were reported missing April 22, in vicinity of Lasqueti Island

Most Read