A memorial for six fallen First Nations chiefs will be held this Friday, Oct. 26, at a site along the Fraser River near G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel.
Lhats’as?in Memorial Day honours the six Tsilhqot’in chiefs who were hanged by the colonial government in 1864 and 1865, at a location just north of Quesnel’s hospital. Five of the chiefs were hanged on Oct. 26, 1864, with the sixth executed in New Westminster the following year.
The memorial will be especially meaningful this year, as the hanged chiefs – Chief Lhats’as?in; Chief Biyil; Chief Tellot; Chief Tahpitt; Chief Chayses; and Chief Ahanwere – were exonerated of any wrongdoing by the Prime Minister of Canada in March.
The six chiefs defended the Tsilhqot’in territory in 1884 when a road crew, sent by the colonial government, entered the territory without permission of the Tsilhqot’in leadership.
Under threat of smallpox, and further loss of land, the Tsilhqot’in chiefs declared war, and led a war party, attacking and killing most of the men making up the camp of the road crew.
Following an offer to discuss terms of peace from the colonial leaders, the Tsilhqot’in chiefs accepted an invitation to meet, and there were betrayed, arrested, convicted and later hanged.
In March, Prime Minister Trudeau apologized to the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
“We know the exoneration and apology we are making today on behalf of Canada cannot by itself repair the damage that has been done, but it is my sincere hope that these words will allow for greater healing as Canada and the Tsilhqot’in Nation continue on a shared journey towards reconciliation,” said Trudeau in the House of Commons.
“Today our government acknowledges what the colonial government of the day was unwilling to accept: that these six chiefs were leaders and warriors of the Tsilhqot’in Nation and the Tsilhqot’in people that they lead maintain rights to land that had never been ceded.
“They acted as the leaders of a proud and independent nation facing the threat of another nation.”
The Memorial Day event will take place Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., beginning with a ceremony at the hanging site.
Lunch will follow at the Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre in West Quesnel, and Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) leadership will give speeches from 1-3 p.m.
?Esdilagh (Alexandria) chief Roy Stump said the morning ceremony will include drumming and a few words from the chiefs.
All six current Tsilhqot’in chiefs will be at the ceremony, including Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Chief Joe Alphonse, Yunesit’in (Stone) Chief Russell Myers Ross, Tl’esqox (Toosey) Chief Francis Laceese, ?Esdilagh Chief Stump, Tsi Del Del (Redstone) Chief Otis Guichon and Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah) Chief Jimmy Lulua.
Stump said Lhtako Dené Chief Clifford Lebrun will also be in attendance, to welcome the group to his band’s traditional territory.
“Every year we celebrate in different locations. Sometimes we have it out in Tsilhqot’in title lands, and this year the chiefs decided to have it at the actual place,” explained Stump.
Of the exoneration of the warrior chiefs, Stump said: “It’s not going to bring the chiefs back, but it’s a step in the right direction. We are on the right track, we are moving forward. The government recognizes they made a mistake. That much we are happy about.”
He said he expects a good crowd of people from each of the six nations to attend Friday’s ceremony.
With files from Monica Lamb-Yorski.