Jimmy Seymour was nine years old the first time his grandfather fed him a raw oyster, fresh from Stz’uminus waters.
“I said how did it taste Dad — we called my grandfather Dad — he said ‘come here’… I went walking over there and he shoved a raw oyster in my mouth.”
Now Seymour is almost 60 years old. He raised three boys — his oldest son is about to turn 40 in April. Seymour is a happy grandfather, and loves spending time with his family — although the pandemic has prevented him from spending as much time with his family as he’d like.
When he’s not with his family, Seymour works full-time as the Solid Waste Operator for Stz’uminus First Nation, and uses his job as a platform to help his community.
“I get to help my elders. A lot of them are kind of scared to come out. Their waste is supposed to be brought out to the road, but I’ll tell them, ‘just leave it by the porch and I’ll grab it for you. You’re more important to stay healthy than coming out’. I do what I can for them,” Seymour said.
He has worked right through the pandemic, and takes extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Seymour covers a fairly large area that extends from Kulleet Bay to just north of Chemainus.
Seymour was recognized by the Stz’uminus Public Works department for his exceptional initiative, reliability, and dedication to the Stz’uminus Community. Stz’uminus Public Works Coordinator, Richard Wilson, had a plaque made to recognize Seymour’s efforts on his first anniversary as a solid waste operator.
“Jimmy is great. He’s always got a positive outlook, he’s always talking to the youth and the people in the community about respecting the land, and work hard. He’s a very hard worker — he’s one of our hardest workers,” Wilson said.
“He has a way with the community. He serves the community… we’ve gotten lots of positive comments on Jimmy. It’s been amazing. That’s what prompted me to give him that plaque. We wanted to do something to boost him up.”
Wilson wanted to do something special for Seymour, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. That act of kindness resonated with Seymour and his family.
“I shared that plaque, and my grandson made a video call. He said ‘you’re inspirational grandpa’. That’s the million dollar payday — when people appreciate you for what you do,” Seymour said.
And Seymour has done a lot of work worth celebrating. He is a survivor of the Kuper Island Residential School, and faced harsh discrimination when he attended local public schools in the ’60s and ’70s. Seymour raised his three boys as a single parent, and returned to finish his education at age 30 so he could help his sons with their homework.
“It was tough. When I had my first son I was trying to apply for a job, and I couldn’t even read the application. So I figured I had to smarten up, and prove to my kids that they need their education,” Seymour said.
After obtaining his Dogwood Diploma in 1992, Seymour trained to become a certified life skills counsellor. He then brought those skills home to Stz’uminus, and ran life skills programs for years before the federal government cut funding. The programs focused on adults, especially on helping young families. Seymour also ran a regular men’s group on Wednesdays.
When asked how he feels to see so many Stz’uminus students graduating high school and getting scholarships, Seymour says it makes him proud.
“It makes me feel good, because some of their parents are the ones that went to my program,” he said. “We’ve come a long way with the way Chief and Council have been making changes over these past few years.”
Even though he’s not working formally as a life skills counsellor, Seymour uses his work as a solid waste operator to continue counselling people in his community. He’s always looking for ways to help people.
Seymour said that when he was growing up in Stz’uminus, he never would have imagined that he’d have the life he has today.
“When I was growing up with my cousins — I’ve lost about five of them now — we never thought we were going to make it past our teens because our life was so bad. But here I am, I’m still here. We never got broken in the residential school, and we never got broken even going through the Ladysmith high school,” he said.
In all the moments where Seymour faced hardship in his life, he’s fallen back on his culture, and the teachings that his family raised him with. Most mornings, Seymour heads down to the waters of Kulleet Bay for a ‘bath’.
Going for a bath is Seymour’s daily prayer routine. As soon as it’s light enough to see, Seymour walks down to swim in the ocean, expresses gratitude for the day, and prays. Seymour’s father taught him about bathing when he eight years old, and he’s been practicing it ever since he left Kuper Island Residential School.
“I owe all my teachings to my father,” Seymour said. “I passed it on to my kids, and they’re teaching it to their kids. That’s why we’re here — we don’t doubt our culture.”
Seymour loves to share his cultural teachings with his grandsons and granddaughters. He’s taught them how to prepare and appreciate their cultural food — in much the same way that his grandfather taught him.
“My boys come down and say ‘how does that taste Dad?’ I start laughing. I say ‘Funny you should ask, I said the same thing to my grandfather and he shoved the oyster in my mouth’, so there you go.”