Enoch Marvin Charlie was born at the Belgatchek village on the shores of Cheslatta Lake on September 23, 1944. He was the son of Michell Charlie and Theresa Jack Charlie.
He spoke often of his brief childhood at Cheslatta Lake and his early years learning hunting and trapping from his father. He inherited a love for the earth, the water, the fish and animals, and the human beings.
When he was almost eight years old, Marvin’s life was turned upside down when a dam was built at the outlet of Cheslatta Lake. His village was flooded and his family were forced to trek out of Cheslatta on a few days notice.
Overnight, Marvin and the Cheslatta people’s lives changed forever. Michell and Theresa erected a large tent under a spruce tree at Grassy Plains which became their home for some time.
As a result of the cold and dampness, Marvin contracted tuberculosis and became very sick. He spent five years at the Miller Bay Hospital in Prince Rupert where he was cared for by the nurses and nuns. He had several operations and had part of his lungs removed.
While he suffered medical difficulties for the rest of his life, he always spoke kindly about those who cared for him at Miller Bay. Upon his release, he spent a brief time at LeJac Residential School and then at the Ootsa Lake School. All total, he received a Grade 3 education. A fact that never slowed him down.
In November of 1954, nearly three years after the flood, Michell Charlie purchased 320 acres of land at Marilla, BC near the shores of Ootsa Lake. There he built a cabin and made a home for the family for the next 40 years. Marvin was always very fond of Marilla and grew up roaming the Ootsa country and getting to know many people.
Marvin loved to travel. He worked on ranches in Nazko, Quesnel and Anaheim Lake. He also spoke of his time in Bella Coola.
It was during this time he started working as a big-game guide. He had many stories of German hunters, close calls, Allan Blackwell, horses, Pius Jack, Pat Edmund, Freddy Jack, Donald Jack, Casimel Jack and others. Marvin has a natural instinct with animals and always seemed to know where they were. He was one with all the creatures.
Marvin also became a talented tree faller which he did in to his 40s. He was proud of how many trees he could fall in a day. He did most every job in the forestry business and also worked for man sawmills in the region.
Whatever he did, he found humor. Wherever he went there was usually laughter. Marvin loved music and learned to play the guitar. One of his favorite songs was “Hey Jude”, but he also loved Johnny Cash and most country music. Other jobs Marvin did over the years included fire fighting and he especially liked picking fruit in the Okanagan with his family.
During his travels, Marvin was also exposed to many different languages and dialects. He took great pride in studying languages and developed a grasp of German from his hunters. He spoke or understood over a dozen languages. He was most proud of his own language.
While he was Chief, he helped publish a comprehensive dictionary of the Cheslatta Whut’en dialect. He spoke his language at any and all occasions.
In 1981, Marvin was elected Councilor of the Cheslatta Band and served under Chief Albert George.
On July 17, 1983 Marvin was first elected Chief of the Cheslatta Band. His first Councilors were Terry Jack and Leonard Quaw and he served until 1985.
He was again elected Chief on March 11, 1990 and served his people until May 2001.
Over this period, he worked with his elected Councilors including Terry Jack, Leonard Quaw, Stanley Jack, Richard Peters, George Louis, Peter Quaw, Peter Gagnon and Bill Troy, Sr.
Marvin faced many obstacles when he became Chief. The community was fractured and depressed. There was no employment. The Kemano II project was looming. The territory and traplines were being logged at an alarming rate. Alcohol abuse was taking it’s toll and the young people saw no opportunity for their future.
After a series of emotional deaths in the community, Marvin asked his father what he should do.
Michell told him to take the people back to the land. Reintroduce them to their roots. Give them a reason to love their territory.
Marvin introduced the Cheslatta Redevelopment Project. It had been 40 years since many of the older people had been back to Cheslatta and most of the young people had never seen Cheslatta.
In a short time, with the spirit of their land and history once again beating through their hearts, Marvin brought the people together on many issues.
Through great sacrifice and firm unity from the people, and strong leadership, a settlement was achieved in 1993 from the Federal Government over the 1952 eviction; an international campaign was mounted against Kemano II ending with it cancellation in 1995; a moratorium was placed on logging in the Cheslatta Lake watershed; an unprecedented timber salvage license was awarded to Cheslatta in 1997; and Cheslatta Forest Products Ltd. partnership was finalized in January of 2001.
Success did not come easy for Marvin and the Cheslatta people. Marvin was blessed with a gift for inspiring his staff and instilling courage in all who worked for him. He fed off of their energy and talents. He was a keen listener. He was a peace broker. He could always settle disputes. He was a consistent, positive and unifying force during a time of great stress and challenges.
He fought for his people and community and defended the rights of the helpless with passionate speeches on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, small community halls, University campuses, corporate boardrooms, Band Halls, Parliament Buildings in Victoria, courtrooms, Royal Commission hearings, TV and radio broadcasts, government offices and around the kitchen tables.
Marvin was proud to be a Cheslatta Indian. On many occasions in public, Marvin bristled at being called “First Nation” by an official or politician. He would say, “Don’t call me First Nation. We are always the last to be told what’s going on. We are always the last to be offered benefits from our land. We are always the last people to get involved in business. You should call us ‘Last Nation’ because that is how you treat us.
While Marvin was a very patient man, he also had a temper. He had little patience for whiners or quitters. He always expected the best in people. He had no patience when people lied to him, his people or staff. He had no patience for people that embarrassed him or his community.
His timing was impeccable. He knew when to speak and when to listen. He knew when to charge and when to withdraw. He knew when to fire and when keep the safety on.
Marvin biggest accomplishment as a leader, that he was most proud of, was the bringing together of the native and non-native people of the Southside. He always said that they always helped each other in the old days and there is no reason that can’t be done in the new days.
The Southside Health and Wellness Centre, Three Nations Water Project, Cheslatta Forest Products and the Cheslatta Community Forest are monuments to that vision. He said, “Since we live together, we also must work together and support each other forever. We are too small to go alone.”
On September 16, 1999, at Cheslatta, exactly seven years before his death, Marvin and his Council convened a historic meeting with executives of the Aluminum Company of Canada.
For the first time, Alcan and Cheslatta met under friendly terms and concluded that the time of war was over and the time of working together had begun.
Many meetings later, on January 13, 2000, Marvin and his Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Alcan which paved the way for a positive and professional business relationship. After 47 years, there was a sense of peace in the Cheslatta Valley.
Being the Chief of Cheslatta took its toll. Being a visionary took its toll. Yet Marvin was always willing to pay the price and leave some change on the table.
Then, in the fall of 1999, he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Over time, he was forced to move from his home at Cheslatta to Prince George where he received regular dialysis treatment.
His fragile health, chronic pneumonia and infections prevented him from having a kidney transplant.
Even though he was ill, Marvin was always available to talk, laugh, share his wisdom and tell jokes. He had good days and bad. He became very close to his grandchildren and was always thrilled when young people gathered around him.
Even in severe pain, he would travel home to see his people and keep his eye on what was going on. Through it all, he was a fighter until the end. Days after sustaining a fall and unable to receive full dialysis treatment, Chief Marvin Charlie passed away on Sept. 16, 2006 in the Prince George Regional Hospital surrounded by his family.
He was 61 years old. Far more than his love of the earth, his love of nature, his love of his Nation and his love of friends was his love for his family. His family was his pride and joy and he lived every moment of his life for them.
Marvin was the first to admit that he wasn’t perfect, yet, Marvin was perfect for the time, and the time was perfect for Marvin.
Rest In Peace Mighty Warrior
Survived by wife: Violet Cahoose.
Sons: Michael Charlie and son Malkom.
Daughters: Twila Charlie (Robert), Raven, Trinity and Jayden.
Grandchildren: Malkom, Raven, Trinity and Jayden.
Sisters: Leah Charlie (Dave) Ray, Martino, Jordan, Eddie (daughter – Michelle), Jeannie (children – Calvin, Christon, Charles).
Mary Charlie (deceased); Virginia Gagnon (Peter); Cody, Melissa, Dustin, April; Janet Whitford (Gerald), Vieonna (Chris) and son Cameron, Daniel, David, Chelsea, Kyle, Gerald; Julie Charlie (Franklin), Darren, Martina, Sonya; Archie Charlie (Lorraine), Sheena, Charlotte, Crystal, Dale Mckinnon, Geraldine Charlie (Marvin), Chassidy, Addiel.
Aunty Monika Sill (Louis), husband Frank Sill (deceased); Melanie Cahoose (Andrew), Wanda Cahoose and children June, Jaretta; Archie Cahoose (Laurie); Susan Leon (West), Jennifer A. Koll (Joe) and children Damian, Darian; Pearl J. Sulin (Darryl) and Christine, Sammy Jr.; Fanny F. Boyd (Adrian) and daughter Ericka Sill, Waylon R. Leon, Curtis S. Leon, Lewis L. Leon and daughter Starlene Leon.
Gertie Cahoose (Raphael), Lorna Jimmie (Chris) and children Jeremy, Tucker and Kristy.
Rena Leon and son Trent.
Myrna Leon and children Hailey, Dasiha, Patrick.
Verna Leon and son Jared Leon.
Predeceased by Father: Michell (1999); Mother: Theresa (1963); six brothers: Jonas Peter (1938); James (Jeamas) (1951); Joseph (1997), Peter (1944); Mervin (1946), Joseph Skody (Scotty) (1954); four sisters: Luch (1933), Mary (1978), Ely (1943), Gracie (1949), Celestine (1936?).