Tsilhqot’in Chief Joe Alphonse. (Black Press Media files)

Chiefs honour Tsilhqot’in leader wrongfully hanged in B.C. 154 years ago today

Chief Joe Alphonse says they want his remains returned to his homeland in B.C.’s Cariboo region

Chiefs have gathered in New Westminster, B.C., to commemorate an Indigenous leader who was wrongfully tried and hanged 154 years ago.

Chief Ahan was hanged in the city’s downtown on July 18, 1865, and a ceremony memorializing his exoneration was held at a high school today where the Tsilhqot’in Nation believes its ancestor could be buried.

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, says the nation had asked the province and school district to conduct DNA tests if the remains are ever found, but neither has agreed.

Alphonse says their chief was wrongfully executed and they want his remains returned to his homeland in B.C.’s Cariboo region.

VIDEO: Statue of B.C.’s ‘Hanging Judge’ removed from New Westminster courthouse

Historian Tom Swanky says Ahan was arrested in May 1865, nearly a year after five Tsilhqot’in men were hanged during the Chilcotin War, when Indigenous leaders reacted to an attempt by settlers to deliberately spread smallpox for a second time.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially exonerated all six warriors last year and then-British Columbia premier Christy Clark offered an official apology in 2014 for the wrongful hangings.

Swanky says Justice Matthew Begbie, whose statue was removed earlier this month from in front of the provincial courthouse in New Westminster, ordered the hanging of the other five men but was not connected with Ahan’s case.

He says all six Tsilhqot’in leaders were arrested and given brief trials before five of them were hanged in Quesnel and Ahan later met the same fate in New Westminster.

The Canadian Press


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