Giving back to the people of the Canim Lake Band is what drives Mike Archie.
Archie was almost born on the side of the road in 1958 when his dad’s car broke down while he was driving his mom, Lizzie, to the hospital in Williams Lake. Thinking fast, Archie’s dad – Charlie – built a fire in the middle of the road to flag down a driver.
He was raised by Lizzie and his grandmother, Eliza Archie, after his father passed away nine months after he was born. He was the youngest of his three siblings.
“Growing up in the community, I won’t say it wasn’t hard because most of my friends would be gone to St. Joseph’s mission for a good portion of the year. There were some of us here who stayed and we had cold winters back then. No water or power in the houses,” Archie said. “I remember it being so cold we’d have to close off some of the rooms in our house just to sleep through the night.”
As a young boy, Archie spent a lot of time with Canim Lake’s elders and veterans, listening to their stories and knowledge. He also watched his mother work hard to put food on the table, clothes on his back and a roof over his head, for which he’s eternally grateful.
Halfway through Grade 11, Archie left school at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary and started working in construction for the Canim Lake Band, playing hockey for the Canim Lake Warriors. He also worked in the forestry and mining sectors. It was a tumultuous few years, in which he drank too much, and saw the end of his first marriage to Darlene Boyce.
In the 1990s, he went back to high school to get his diploma and began working with the Canim Lake Band, which was running programs that confronted the impacts of residential schools and trauma on their community. Taking part allowed Archie to heal and, with his band’s support, he got a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in First Nations studies through Thompson Rivers University in 2005.
In 2006, he was elected chief, serving three terms until 2018. “My role was to represent the community in the public eye and my philosophy basically was to listen to my expert program managers,” Archie said. “I knew my staff would do their jobs and do them well.”
Archie, now married to Trish Meraw, said his full-time job is being a grandfather. However, he is also currently the cultural advisor for the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council, focusing on finding ways to revitalize language and culture, promote reconciliation among the four bands and find ways to bring the youth and elders together.
“It’s a challenge but it takes some time to build that unity into the nation,” Archie said. “That language identifies who we are as Shuswap people.”