NEWS
05/03/2016 19:54 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 01:12 EDT

Vancouver Island First Nations leader known as 'The General' dies at 82

PORT ALBERNI, B.C. — First Nations on Vancouver Island are mourning the loss of a man who led them through treaty negotiations for more than a decade.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council said in a release that Nelson Keitlah passed away peacefully in his sleep Sunday morning at the age of 82.

Keitlah was one of the original leaders of the West Coast District Council, which later became the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, representing 14 First Nations along western Vancouver Island.

"He was a strong, compassionate leader, and a loving and supportive family man," Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Deb Foxcroft said. "His wisdom and knowledge about Nuu-chah-nulth history and modern NTC politics will be greatly missed."

Keitlah was known as "The General" because of how he led the group through treaty negotiations with the federal and provincial governments.

He also represented the First Nations in protests against logging in Clayoquot Sound and on Meares Island in the 1980s and '90s.

Former Nuu-chah-nulth president Cliff Atleo Sr. worked closely with Keitlah for more than 35 years, and said he was more than just a leader.

"He was a keeper of our histories, knew the intricate details of our culture, and was one of the last great speakers of our language."

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Keitlah was 76.