Grand Chief Antoine a pioneer in education

By on March 17, 2017
Grand Chief Gordon Antoine. Photo courtesy of the Nicola Valley Museum


Grand Chief Gordon Antoine was truly one of the most respected aboriginal leaders, not only in the Nicola Valley, but also throughout the province and across the country.

He was first elected to the Coldwater Band council in 1966, when he was only 23 years old. Nine years later, he was elected chief and served in that capacity through four more band elections. It was during his tenure that he was involved in the formation of the Nicola Valley Indian Administration (now known as the Nicola Valley Tribal Council), which brought five bands together for stronger representation of the First Nations people.

Gordon Antoine also played an integral role in the development of Coldwater School — a kindergarten to Grade 12 school of choice for local First Nations children who would rather not travel to Merritt to attend the regular provincial one. The school adheres to the provincial curriculum, but also sets aside extra time each day for students to explore their aboriginal roots, culture, traditions, language, stories and spirituality.

Coldwater School grew from Gordon’s vision of what a school should be. It first opened in 1984 and Antoine wanted to explore a more hands-on alternative to the written learning style that was being used in schools at the time.

Eventually enough funding was raised to construct a building that would accommodate the growing number of students who wanted to reconnect with their aboriginal roots and traditions in addition to learning the necessary skills to participate in Western society. In 1997 a larger building, complete with an adjoining pit house, was opened. It had a gym, seven classrooms, a kindergarten and an extensive library.

Many people say that Gordon Antoine’s heart was in the building of that school.

As Grand Chief, he worked for his community for 25 years with strength and conviction. He sat on a number of local boards, including the All Nations Trust Company and the Nicola Valley Tribal Council.

Antoine was also one of the biggest advocates for the building of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology and served on the board as chairman for more than 10 years. He was a director on the board of the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson Rivers University) and was a member of the provincial task force for post-secondary education for the native people.

In 1993, he received the Order of British Columbia and three years later he received an honourary law degree from the Open Learning Agency.

Gordon and his wife Janice were working on creating a cultural and spiritual reawakening in the native community through the Vipassana Meditation Centre. He spoke with many spiritual leaders from other cultures to get their input and was influenced by a core of a deep spiritual belief that he inherited from his ancestors. Unfortunately, Gordon passed away in May 2004, so Janice continued the work on her own.

The memorial service was fittingly held at the Coldwater School. Hundreds of people, including family members, friends, dignitaries and well-wishers gathered in the school’s gymnasium. Many of them had travelled long distances to celebrate the life of Grand Chief Gordon Antoine. A large number spilled out into the school’s main foyer and many more braved the drizzling rain outside to pay their respects.

A horse-drawn carriage carrying the blanket covered casket, led the funeral procession to the school. The Reverend Mike Watkins and c’el’mncut Jim Toodlican conducted the service. Ronald Derrickson gave the eulogy.

Following the service a traditional feast was held. Master of Ceremonies Dave McCauley invited dignitaries, family and friends to give their personal tributes.

Come and tour the Museum! We are located right behind The Railyard Mall, at 1675 Tutill Court and are open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm. For more information on the history of Merritt and the Nicola Valley, call or visit the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives, (250)-378-4145. You can also visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook.

Dion Kaszas, a tattoo artist, who uses traditional Nlaka’pamux methods of hand poke and skin stitch and specializes in indigenous studies and pictographs, will be the guest speaker at our Annual General Meeting, March 16 at 7 pm in the Seniors’ Centre. Admission is free.

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