The 22nd annual Brittany Gathering at Henry’s Crossing brought people together from near and far to celebrate the return of the salmon and the recent Supreme Court decision that declared aboriginal title to a vast tract of land in the Chilcotin.
Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip addressed the gathering held Aug. 19 to 21.
A Nuxalk youth dance troop from Bella Coola performed mask dances to honour the occasion. Lahal games, a horseshoe tournament, moccasin races, a talent night, and fishing in the river were enjoyed by young and old.
Many concerns were expressed about the recent Mount Polley Mine breach and how it is impacting the Fraser River system.
Former Xeni Gwet’in chief and now band councillor Marilyn Baptiste stated that every time a fish is caught and shared with the families, it helps the earth to heal.
“A year ago the mining industry told us a breach like this would never occur. But it did,” Baptiste said.
Xeni Gwet’in councillor, Loretta Williams said she is trying to get informed about the effects of the Mount Polley spill on Chilcotin salmon.
“Some of our people have kept on fishing in spite of it, but I’ve chosen not to fish at all. Right now I’m very proud to be driving on titled lands. I told my son, Preston, you can build your house anywhere you choose.”
?Esdilagh Chief Bernie Mack said it was a good day to celebrate.
“We have to accept the fine balance and live in the moment. The price to get our land was not cheap, but you can live and taste this moment today.”
He said a lot of other countries around the globe are watching the Tsilhqot’in decision.
“What you’ve done here impacts the world,” Mack said. “We’re the meat of the sandwich. Government and industry have to work with us, but what comes with the lands is the responsibility to look after them.”
Speaking to the Tsilhqot’in youth, Mack said the community needs biologists, engineers and regulators.
“We need youth to get an education.”
Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers-Ross said he is wondering what the next step might be following the Supreme Court decision.
“We know the land is ours. Now we need to make decisions together with the Crown.”
Myers-Ross cautioned that government will try to reduce the authority of First Nations.
“The stakes are high for both sides. This land is here for us and we need to make a transition plan. We want to do a better job of managing the land than the Crown has done. We have a better vision.”
Tsi Deldel Chief Percy Guichon said it was the knowledge of the elders that made the Supreme Court decision possible.
“The chiefs before us wanted the same things 100 years ago that we want today. The court decision gives First Nations pride. For the first time ever we’re going to the table with government as equals. Things are going to be done differently now. We want to coexist and benefit from each other.”
Tl’esqox Chief Francis Laceese encouraged the youth to learn the Tsilhqot’in ways.
“Use what you need from the river. The only way government and industry will know who we are is if we move forward together.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip commented that many of the Tsilhqot’in drummers who took part in the ceremony to open the gathering were toddlers.
“I heard those same songs right across the country and in front of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Tsilhqot’in people are generously sharing these songs.”
Chief Stewart reflected on the excitement at the moment when the Supreme Court decision was announced.
“It was at 6 a.m. on June 27 in Vancouver. It was magical, electric, amazing. I was shocked speechless. We all leaped out of our chairs so ecstatic and elated. So happy that the highest court in the land recognized our right to title. I thank the Tsilhqot’in on behalf of my 14 grandchildren. The path in front of us is clear.”
Chief Stewart reflected that a rising tide carries all boats.
“Everyone will prosper and benefit,” Chief Stewart predicted. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work. Government and business will have to be convinced to obey the rule of law.”
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William noted that 26 elders testified in court for the land title case.
“Nine are not with us now,” William added.
During the opening ceremony, Chief William explained the significance of the songs.
“The Salmon Boy song teaches about the four-year cycle of the salmon,” Chief William said.
“The loon song tells about the deal the loon made with the hunter/warrior to get his sight back. The Supreme Court case is like us getting our sight back.”