Tsilhqot’in National Government tribal chair and Tl’etinqox chief, Chief Joe Alphonse attended a Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Tsilhqot’in National Government tribal chair and Tl’etinqox chief, Chief Joe Alphonse attended a Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

‘A year like no other’: Tsilhqot’in chief reflects on 2021

Chief Joe Alphonse said the pandemic has changed the way the nation does business

Tsilhqot’in tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse describes 2021 as a ‘year like no other.’

“We’ve had a lot of big positive things in our community, but it’s all overshadowed by COVID-19,” he said. “It dominated and took over our culture, our way of being and way of doing business.”

Putting ‘safety first’ resulted in more virtual meetings, which Alphonse said ‘hobbled’ negotiation efforts, but dialogue continued with the federal and provincial governments.

On Dec. 7, the Tsilhqot’in Nation and the University of British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding toward reconciliation and recognition of Indigenous self-determination.

“We are honoured that UBC is willing to show leadership and knows well enough that times have changed. This is the trend and what they have to do to be competitive and move forward,” he said.

“We are doing this together and I think that is the message that needs to go out for the Cariboo-Chilcotin too. Exclusion of First Nations people is not the way to go.”

He noted First Nations have been at the back of the pack long enough.

“Education is key to anything,” he added, noting he’d love to see more university programs developed in Williams Lake.

Alphonse believes education is key to a successful future, noting he’d love to see more university programs developed in Williams Lake.

In 2021, his own community of Tl’etinqox started an equine program, opened a new elders facility, followed by the grand opening of Chilcotin River Trading, a $4.5 million gas bar in March and the construction of a new daycare is almost completed.

Eyeing the future, the Cariboo Chilcotin region needs to work more with its First Nations communities, Alphonse said, noting he would like to see the creation of a tribal police force to serve First Nations communities and see First Nations take on more governance and responsibility, specifically in health.

A few years ago the nation established a women’s council, which Alphonse hopes to see grow and said the TNG is also aiming to establish a grand chief position.

May’s announcement about the findings of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School opened up a huge discussion, Alphonse said.

“It was not polite to talk about those things and having that discovery is allowing our people to finally tell what happened at those institutes. There is more to be revealed and more healing will have to happen.”



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