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Roy Leonard Mussell: visionary leader's work built bridges and provided inspiration to others.

Roy Leonard Mussell was serving his fourth term as chief of the Skwah First Nation when he died of cancer on March 5 at the age of 57, but the impact of his life's work went well beyond the boundaries of the small community he'd led for close to a decade.

In addition to his role as Skwah chief, Mussell was involved with a number of other organizations--some regional, some provincial and some national in their scope.

There seemed to be no end to the areas Mussell concerned himself with, working on environmental issues, human resource development, economic development and toward the attainment of self-sufficiency for First Nation communities.

He was also keenly committed to opening doors for Aboriginal youth, working to ensure the next generation had access to education and training and the supports they needed to be successful.

Throughout all he did, Mussell also worked to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities, believing that strong partnerships were the key to making things happen. And he had a knack for building those partnerships, in large part because of his ability to listen to various points of view and then help people find common ground.

Mussell served as president of the Fraser Basin Council Society and was a vice-chair and founding director of the Fraser Basin Council, created in February 1997 to promote sustainable development of the Fraser River and its basin, an area the size of California that two-thirds of British Columbians call home. The council, a partnership between First Nations, federal, provincial and local governments, was a working example of the types of relationships Mussell worked to cultivate.

On the human resource development front, Mussell co-chaired the B.C. First Nations' Aboriginal Human Resources Development Agreements Management Committee and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chiefs' Committee on Human Resources Development Agreements. He represented the AFN on the Aboriginal Human Resources Development Strategy Renewal Committee and was a director of the Aboriginal Human Resources Development Council of Canada, an organization that works to increase the number of Aboriginal people within the Canadian labor market.

Mussell served as president of the Aboriginal Policy Institute, which works to support Aboriginal capacity building, and also worked to make it easier and more attractive for Aboriginal people to get into construction trades and apprenticeships. He was also involved in the B.C. Aboriginal Training and Employment Association and was a member of the Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiatives' national steering committee.

On the economic development side of things, Mussell was manager of the Sto:lo Nation's resource development department. He also chaired the Ch-ihl-kway-uhk Forestry Limited Partnership (CFLP), comprised of eight First Nation communities--Aitchelitz, Kwaw Kwaw Apilt, Skowkale, Skwah, Skway, Squiala, Tzeachten and Yakweakwioose. In May 2005, the CFLP entered into a $12 million joint venture partnership with Probyn Log Ltd. that would see members of the eight communities working with Probyn to manage and run the First Nations' forestry operations. Through the partnership, community members would receive training in forestry operations, and employment opportunities would also be created.

While the many organizations he was involved in kept him busy, Mussell always found time for his family--his wife Maryanne, daughters Tana, Lara, Elyse and Madison and granddaughters Paige and Jade. Despite all the other demands for his time and attention, family always came first and he loved the time spent with them. He also filled his leisure time with other favorite pursuits, like cooking, playing golf and riding horses.

In December 2005, Mussell received recognition for the many hours he'd dedicated to improving the lives of First Nation people when the Sto:lo First Nation held a naming ceremony and gave him the name Sxela:wtxw till, after the region where he was born and where he spent most of his life.

That same month, Mussell was diagnosed with the cancer that within months would claim his life.

During his battle with cancer, attempts were made to have Mussell awarded the Order of British Columbia, the highest form of honor the province can bestow on its citizens. Although dozens of letters in support of his nomination for the honor were gathered, Mussell died before the process could be completed.

Even after his passing, the work done by Mussell continues to reach fruition. Shortly after his death, two projects that Mussell had been involved in came closer to becoming reality when, on April 7, the Ch-ihl-kway-uhk Tribe Society announced the purchase to two properties in the Chilliwack River Valley. The properties, located within traditional Ch-ihl-kway-uhk territory, are the sites of two former correctional facilities. The Ch-ihl-kway-uhk Tribe Society plans to develop an Aboriginal resort and conference centre on one of the sites, and an Aboriginal healing and wellness centre on the other.

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Mussell has been described as a kind man, a wise man, a self-less man. He's been called a diplomat and a visionary, and was known as a man who demonstrated passion, commitment and determination in all the work he took on. And he was a man that got things done. Over the years he touched many people, inspiring them to do what they could to improve the opportunities available to Aboriginal people. Now that he is gone, it will be up to those that remain to continue the work he began.

As a lasting memorial, the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Council of Canada has created the Roy Mussell Annual Dialogue, which will continue Mussell's efforts by bringing partners together to discuss ways to help Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal youth reach their full potential. And, at Mussell's request, the Fraser Basin Council has established the Roy Mussell Fund for Aboriginal Youth, which will support leadership capacity building among First Nation youth.

"Chief Mussell was a great leader, businessman, environmental advocate, academic and humanitarian whose work has made true positive differences in the lives of First Nations people," British Columbia's First Nations Leadership Council said of the late chief in a letter of condolence sent to his family. "We are confident that Roy's achievements will serve as an inspiration both to us as First Nations people, as well as to many others across the country, for many years to come."
COPYRIGHT 2006 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:footprints
Author:Petten, Cheryl
Publication:Windspeaker
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:1029
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