Special to the Tribune
Xeni Gwet’en Nits’ilʔin (chief) Roger William and UBC Indigenous Studies emeritus professor, Lorraine Weir, realized a dream with the launch of their book Lha Yudit’ih We Always Find A Way: Bringing the Tsilhqot’in Title Case Home (Talon Books, 2023).
Their combined effort was 11 years in the making. And as Weir points out, it was a community effort, giving voice to many Tsilhqot’in speakers in the 500-page document.
“The book tries to faithfully record how each speaker speaks,” she says.
Chief Roger describes the book like sitting around a campfire.
“Some stories are long; some are short.”
He admits the decade-long collaboration with Weir was challenging.
“We were up late at night texting back and forth. Sometimes we didn’t agree, but we were very careful not to offend other nations. It’s not easy to win a title case.”
The initial launch of the book took place Tuesday, Nov 7 at the Xeni Gwet’in Community Hall in Nemiah Valley. A second launch was held the next day in Williams Lake at the Tsilhqot’in National Government offices on South Lakeside Drive.
In Nemiah Valley, Roger’s mother, Eileen William, was the first to receive a book. A buzz filled the air as more community members arrived to accept their copies. Julianna Lulua beamed as she leafed through the pages. She was on the bus to Ottawa with her late husband Ubill Lulua in November 2013 to attend the Title Case hearings at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Adam William was chief in 1980 when he brought his people to Ottawa to enshrine Indigenous rights and title into the Canadian constitution. In handing him a book, Weir and Chief Roger recognized Adam’s pioneering role in the Title Case.
Eileen William opened the event with a prayer, followed by traditional healer Gilbert Solomon drumming and singing.
Chief Roger told how over 50 people were interviewed for the book, and 46 of them agreed to have their stories included in its pages. He commended the Xeni Gwet’in community for keeping up the fight over three decades despite several changes in leadership over the life of the Title Case.
Former chief, the late Marvin Baptiste, took the first decisive step for Xeni Gwet’in sovereignty by amalgamating all the community traplines under the umbrella of the nation.
Weir says she was first drawn to the community after reading the trial transcript of the Title Case. Marilyn Baptiste was chief when Weir visited Xeni Gwet’in for the first time in 2012.
“I met Roger quite by accident. Pam Quilt introduced me to Chief Marilyn in Lee’s Corner café, and Marilyn said Roger should write a book about the title case.”
Three days later Weir met Roger at Xeni and they talked about writing a book. Ten months later, in June 2013, they did their first five-hour interview during the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) hearings for the proposed New Prosperity Mine.
Weir says she and Roger developed a good working relationship.
“Roger and I clearly have different roles. He was the primary storyteller and I was the writer.”
Weir insists the book belongs to the whole community.
“The book is really traditional. A lot in the book is in the Tsilhqot’in language. I believe in the future of Indigenous languages.”
She says Roger was a Xeni Gwet’in band councilor when they met in 2012.
“Then he was chief, then not in leadership, then chief again. There were lots of three o’clock in the morning conversations with Roger. One thing we have in common, we’re both night owls.”
Weir says her first intention was to write a book on the Title Case. But she says it ended up being much more than that.
“It became a philosophical/legal statement about the land. I hope it reaches out to Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences and will inform people going forward with reconciliation.”
She says the book reflects what she was taught by Xeni Gwet’in people.
“They were my teachers.”
Weir told those assembled for the launch in Williams Lake that the book wasn’t just about the Title Case.
“It’s about you guys. The book gives back. It’s about the voices of the people; how they agree and disagree. It’s totally magical how voices harmonize.”
Weir says the book isn’t written in stone.
“If you see a mistake, get back to me. We can change it in future printings.”
After recording 16 interviews with Roger, some several hours in duration, Roger insisted Weir go out and start interviewing other people in the community. She says these interviews with community members largely determined the shape of the book.
“People talked about smallpox, residential school and the Tsilhqot’in War.”
She says one of the book’s key informants, the late Yunesit’in Chief Ivor Myers, was leaving a legacy with his interviews.
“I interviewed him over the last year of his life. His advice was to tell those old stories that some people had been trying to protect from circulation in the outside community.”
The book is dedicated to late Chief Ivor Deneway Myers.
At the Williams Lake launch Weir acknowledged former Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers Ross for coming forward with the translation for the book’s title: “We Always Find A Way.” She also thanked Joyce Charleyboy and Gene Cooper for their invaluable input.
Weir and Chief Roger take their book launch to the Lower Mainland on Dec 1, for a presentation to the Massy Arts Society in Vancouver from 6 to 8 pm. More launches are planned in the new year.
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