The provincial government took steps October 23 to smooth over relations with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, which hold the keys to a number of economic development projects in the Williams Lake region, with a formal apology over the execution of six war chiefs in the 1860s.
“Today marks a significant step toward reconciliation with the Tsilhqot’in Nation, and to a relationship of respect and recognition,” Premier Christy Clark said in the Legislative Assembly October 23.
In April 1864, the Tsilhqot’in people, ravaged by smallpox and trying to defend their land against intruding settlers, organized an assault against workers trying to build a road through their territory to access gold in the Cariboo. Within about a month, 19 road workers and one farmer were dead.
The aboriginals took refuge in their territory, out of reach of the colonial military trying to hunt them down.
That summer, B.C. gold commissioner William Cox sent Tsilhqot’in chiefs a sacred gift of tobacco and an invitation to negotiate peace.
When the chiefs arrived at the meeting they were arrested and tried for murder. Five were hanged in Quesnel and one in New Westminster.
In 1999, then-premier Mike Harcourt apologized to the Tsilhqot’in Nation, but the First Nations group wanted the government to go further and exonerate the six chiefs.
Clark said through the exoneration, the government intends to “take a new path of mutual respect and begin the process of healing.”
“[Thursday] was very emotional and it was something we’ve been wanting for a long time,” Tsilhqot’in tribal chairman Chief Joe Alphonse. “We’ve waited 150 years for this.”
Alphonse said the band’s next fight will be pushing the federal government to exonerate the chiefs and engage in dialogue with the Tsilhqot’in people.
In June, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a historic ruling that grants the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to 1,750 square kilometres of its territory, west of Williams Lake in central B.C. The decision places a greater burden on governments to justify economic developed on aboriginal land.
Clark is planning an official visit to the Tsilhqot’in territory on Sunday to participate in annual celebrations marking the Chilcotin War and the 1864 hangings.
where are the apologies to the families of the miners? nineteen dead is probably a conservative estimate
apologists are the ones who should be hanged