Just listening to Willie speak, you can feel the passion behind his words. William “Kwel-A-A-Nexw” Nahanee, better known to everyone as Willie, has been a part of Grouse Mountain’s education program since its inception 15 years ago and is still as excited about sharing his culture with students as the day he started. In that time, Willie has presented to well over 200,000 students and considers every one of them his friend.
Willie originally came to Grouse Mountain with the construction of the hiwus Feasthouse in 1997. At the time, he had been working as an event planner for the Squamish Nation and learned that Grouse Mountain was planning to bring in someone from a different territory to perform at the Feasthouse. Willie immediately offered his services and was hired by the Resort to join the daily performances of First Nations songs and dances.
Through both his initial performances at the hiwus Feasthouse and later though his years in the education program, Willie believes he’s been given the opportunity to do what he loves – sharing his Squamish culture in a positive and constructive manner. It is certainly fitting that his ancestral name “Kwel-A-A-Nexw”, given to him in a traditional naming ceremony, means ‘the person who listens and does something’.
Willie likes to highlight the fact that he is a Canadian first and First Nations second. The pride he shows as a Canadian is remarkable in light of his experience as a child in the Canadian residential school system. Instead of letting that experience negatively affect his outlook it has instead instilled in him the importance of celebrating everyone’s unique culture. In sharing his story with students Willie hopes to show them that there’s a better way to live together, appreciate and respect each other than what he experienced.
Willie is proud to continue the First Nations oral tradition of passing on important history and teachings through word of mouth. Using stories, songs and dances he imparts his students with important ideas of caring, sharing and respect of family, friends and the environment. As Willie will tell you “in the Squamish culture, no one is allowed to be an outsider – we welcome everyone into our home as family.” That means everyone participates!
While being incredibly proud of his own roots and culture, Willie is just as appreciative of other cultures. During his years at Grouse Mountain he has presented to students from all over the world. As a way to connect with his students Willie often greets them in their native language be it Japanese, German or Spanish. He believes that showing an appreciation for each student’s own culture puts them at ease and fosters a more inclusive learning environment so that his teachings will have a lasting impact.
When asked about his plans for the future, Willie’s immediate response is “keep sharing”. He considers the last 20 years as part of the Grouse Mountain family to be his best and speaks fondly of the wonderful people he’s been privileged to work with. While he has no immediate plans to move on, Willie is continuing the custom of sharing by teaching his son the traditional songs and dances so that William Jr. can one day carry on in his place.