Larry Bell re: being a Hawaiian Descendant in the Pacific Northwest

Larry Bell re: being a Hawaiian Descendant in the Pacific Northwest
Recording by Sara Kolbet
Date: 1/29/05
1 Disc – second half of Cathy Roland – 44:44 – 6 Tracks

TRACK 7 – 10:03

LARRY: I am Larry Bell and I am European, Cosalish and Hawaiian. On my Hawaiian side I am descendant of William Mahoi, Hawaiian laborer to the northwest Coast of North America, a man who came here, I’m going to say here to the northwest coast in the early 1800s. I would say the 1840s is the best guess estimate based on the information we have, and who was buried on Salt Spring Island around the year 1881. William Mahoi came here originally from my understanding to work at Fort Vancouver in what is now Washington, Oregon state area as a laborer, at the farm area there, and would have worked in other areas such as Fort Rupert, Fort Victoria, where again he worked there as a laborer for a short period of time – up until around the 1850s and that area of time. And then had at least one daughter, his daughter was named Maria Mahoi, and she would have been my great-grandmother. The information I’m providing now is really based on my research. And when I say my research, that really involves talking to other people, some of the other people you’ve already mentioned, Jean Barman and Tom Koppel.

Where I’m fortunate is that many people have done the research before I came along. I started doing my research before the whole subject of Hawaiians in the NW coast became popular, or more popular than it was. I don’t mind saying that these group of people in my estimation were a forgotten people and little was known about their history. I always knew that I was part Hawaiian. That name, Maria Mahoi, was always known to me and my family. It was known as a name Maria Mahoi Kamehele. That last part was really unknown how to spell it. And while that name, as she was my great-grandmother was known, there was a certain unknown-ness to it. A ghostlike image of who was she, what was this Hawaiian involvement about? And no one seemed to have an understanding of it. Certainly in my family’s history. I was fortunate one day to have my wife show me an article in the Vancouver Sun, a major newspaper in British Columbia, and there in black and white, on the pages of the Vancouver Sun, was my great-grandmother’s name, Maria Mahoi, with her relationship to an ancestor I didn’t know by the name of Mel Couvelier, who was a previous provincial minister of finance in the province of BC. So here I am in my 30s and seeing my great-grandmother’s name in the newspaper and that was, I don’t mind saying, quite shocking. Who was she to be involved in a newspaper article was quite a surprise to me. But it did say a few things that came as more of a surprise. That it mentioned the Hawaiian connection and it also mentioned that she was part First Nations. So before that I didn’t know I was part First Nations, or as you may call it in the states, North American Indian. I didn’t know that then, and it also explained the Hawaiian connection to William Mahoi, her father, and that he was an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. So from that article there, I don’t mind saying that I became intrigued, my wife would say addicted, to finding out about my ancestry. And at the time it was a challenge because there was no books written on the subject and where did I start? And I had to start somewhere, and I did that by talking to people like Professor Jean Barman. I went to her house and she opened her doors and showed me pictures of my grandmother, Mary Jane Fisher, and told me some stories about her and told me stories about Maria Mahoi – things I had never known. And a little bit of information on the Hawaiian connection. But I still had to find out more for myself, and I started doing that by reading a thesis. I contacted and visited Mali Naughton, who is a University Professor at University of Western Washington, who wrote one of the earliest theses on the whole subject, which resulted in an article I think in the Honolulu press on the forgotten Hawaiians. Because these were indeed a group of people who were barely mentioned in history books. I say I had to find out who these people were. I would open a book and I would explore historical tracts or novels or books on Vancouver history, Vancouver Island history, British Columbia history, Oregon history, etc, and then you would read a sentence or two about a group of people who came here, and I don’t mind saying it was annoying. Here these people played such a major role on the early pioneer development of western North America and in some major books they deserve less than a word. So I had to find out more. So I did that, as I say, by talking to people, but I also became a bit of an activist in terms of promoting Hawaiian history. So going backwards I started talking to people. It was prior to Tom Koppel writing his book. But fortunately he did write his book and he was a great resource for me to find out about the Hawaiian connection. I was also able to talk to another lady by the name of Mali Alaine, who I think wrote maybe the first thesis on the Pacific Islanders or the Hawaiians coming to the NW coast, and it featured areas around Vancouver here. So again I did research, I found out who these Hawaiians were, what their connections were to me, when it came down to it, and I also became promoting Hawaiian history, because again I was angry that these people were forgotten. So I started doing that by trying to encourage ancestors of their Kanaka or Hawaiians around. We started having Hawaiian connections in the mainland area. The first one was in Langley. And then there was one in Balcava Park in North Burnaby, Deep Cove area in Vancouver, and there were a few other ones in North Vancouver. And that was a few years ago, and I don’t mind saying I’m kind of walked away from that. But the concept was to get these people together, find out who we’re related to and find our common histories and make a connection with each other and with our ancestors. One of the more positive aspects I’ve had with the promotion of Hawaiian history was that probably about twelve years ago or so I was successful in getting a few projects off the ground by forming partnerships between different levels of government. Sometimes including First Nations people, sometimes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs into I’ll call it signage to notate both a sign at Kanaka Creek, which is located outside of Maple Creek, which is in British Columbia, and signage to commemorate the Hawaiians also at Russell Island, Portland Island, and one also at Salt Spring Island I had some involvement with. As I say, partnerships. That involved expertise and money from the governments and involvement with the wording. I’ll stop there for a second. Read more...