A Chase woman has written a book about a First Nations couple that overcame alcoholism and turned sobriety into something that not only kept their family together, but lifted up an entire community.
Carolyn Parks Mintz is the author of Resolve: The Story of the Chelsea Family and a First Nation Community’s Will to Heal. She wrote the book after a serendipitous and moving encounter with Ivy Chelsea, the daughter of the book’s subjects Andy and Phyllis.
The two have become known for what they did for their community, the Alkali Lake Esk’et First Nation, located 35 kilometres south of Williams Lake.
Andy and Phyllis first met at St. Joseph’s Mission School — a residential school in Williams Lake. Later in life, when the couple married in 1964, they brought with them the effects of the trauma they endured and both struggled with alcohol, Mintz said.
“It was weekend partying. As with most reserves in those days, it involved drinking. Andy, who was a great guy, could become angry — and he took it out on his wife. There was physical violence, arguing,” she said.
But in 1971, daughter Ivy, then seven years old, and her brothers, told their parents they no longer wanted to live in the house because of their drinking.
The couple embraced sobriety and the violence and conflict between them came to an end, Parks Mintz said. The family remained survived intact and the change marked the beginning of a life of activism for the couple, with Andy using his position as band chief to bring about change and Phyllis working as a social worker, in the courts and on the school board.
“They did some tough love stuff that got people’s attention. For example, there were bootleggers on the rez — and they decided they had to be stopped,” she said.
With the help of the RCMP and the couple putting up their own money to support the operation, a sting operation to bust those selling alcohol was undertaken.
Among those collected in the sting were both of the couple’s mothers, who were taken to meet with the RCMP waiting just off the reserve. They were not charged or arrested, but told that if they were caught again they would go to jail.
“That pretty well cleaned up the bootlegging. They were caught red-handed,” Parks Mintz said.
The Chelseas went to work to eradicate alcoholism in their community and beyond. Over the 27 years Andy was chief of the reserve, he took his community from 100 per cent alcoholic to 98 per cent sober, Parks Mintz said.
“It was such a sad story that included triumph,” she said.
Resolve combines interviews with historical records to tell a close and personal story of the Chelsea family. Parks Mintz said the book is both a celebration of strength and a condemnation of systemic racism.
Parks Mintz will be at Chapters, 4-1395 Hillside Dr., on Saturday, July 27, for a book signing event from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
She began work on the book in 2016 and moved to Chase from Ontario shortly after. The timing turned out to be crucial. In January 2017, Andy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Parks Mintz said she immediately embarked on his interviews and wrote all of his segments of the book.
“He read them, he approved them and he liked them. And then we lost him in June 2017,” Parks Mintz said.