When posed with several questions about her history, 98-year-old tribal member Goldie Rutzer had one of her own, which she asked through her caregiver.
“Am I the oldest Arrow Lakes Indian?” asked Rutzer, who proudly notes her relatives include World War II hero Earl “One Lung” McClung and artist Virgil “Smoker” Marchand.
The answer turned out to be that and more. Of 12 bands that make of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Rutzer is the oldest.
Born and raised in Kettle Falls on September 6, 1916 to Joseph Aubertin and Philomene Gagnon, Rutzer spent the first chunk of her life close to the Colville Indian Reservation. But for nearly 80 years, she has been eating fresh oysters and breathing in the Pacific Ocean air in Nahcotta, Washington—a quiet town on the southwest coast, a mile from the water.
She and husband Otto came with another family to find work in the commercial digging of razor clams. Over the years, they raised four boys, including a set of twins.
In time, the razor clam business was no longer allowed as a commercial crop, she said, so Otto started a business in trucking and heavy hauling.
Goldie enjoyed her privacy in life. She did not socialize much or join organizations, she said. She preferred to spend her time raising her family and taking care of her home and garden.
After 53 years in Nahcotta, her husband passed away in 1991. At age 75, she chose to live alone in the family home instead of downsizing, as all of her children lived in eastern Washington.
Over the past 20 years, she found a need for the kind of looking after that family normally provides. Adamant she wanted to live at home—even though she had given up driving—there seemed no easy answers, she said.
Several friends and neighbors got together and agreed to help Goldie with her shopping, bill paying, house cleaning, doctor appointments and other needed tasks. With the help from the Nahcotta community, she lived in her home until 2013, aged 96. She had lived at her home for 63 continuous years.
She protested a move to an assisted living facility in April 2013, but with much of her eyesight and hearing gone, it was the right option. She is still able to get around and enjoys having people read to her from her mother Philomene’s oral history interview, which includes many of the old days in Kettle Falls.
Throughout the years, Rutzer had yearned for more information on her tribal background. Through genealogy, she was able to learn of her great, great grandmother was an Arrow Lakes woman named Julia Kin-a-wait-sa, who married Louis Provost. From there, her great-grandparents were Victoria Provo and Joachim Marchand; their daughter, Sophie, married Charles Aubertin, father of Joseph.
All of her Indian blood comes from her father’s side, she said. Her studies of the Arrow Lakes have led her to the following information:
“In early days, the Arrow Lakes Tribe was known as the Sinixt and their tribal homeland was in the Lakes region of southern British Columbia between Castlegar and Revelstoke,” she said through her caregiver. “The two lakes, known as Upper and Lower, were widenings of the Columbia River. The origin of their name was a cultural feature known as ‘Arrow Rock’ on the east shore of the lower lake.
“According to legend,” she added, “there was a large rock outcropping above the water and in the face of it was a hole filled with arrows. Different stories surround the meaning of the arrows but they are said to have been shot there by the early Sinixt Indians.”
Eighteen-months from 100 years old, Goldie Rutzer is still learning—perhaps it is a key to her longevity.