As the morning sky began to emerge in Williams Lake early Wednesday people gathered in Boitanio Park for a traditional send off of the Indigenous Land Title Express.
The bus, carrying youth, elders and community leaders, will travel from Williams Lake to Ottawa, making stops in every province, and will arrive in time to take in the Nov. 7 historic appeal of the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s Aboriginal Title Case being heard at the Supreme Court of Canada.
“It’s a nervous but exciting time,” said Tl’etinqox’t’in (Anaham) Chief Joe Alphonse before the express bus departed.
Litigation began more than 20 years ago for the Tsilhqo’tin people’s Aboriginal rights to hunt, trap and trade throughout the entire claim area, including the right to capture and use wild horses.
Some of the elders who testified then are making the journey this time. Others are along in spirit because they have passed on, Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley) Roger William said.
Redstone elder Minnie Charleyboy, 75, who spent most of her life at Eagle Lake in Xeni Gwet’in traditional territory testified last time around and is making the trip to Ottawa.
Translating for her mom, School District 27 Chair Joyce Cooper said Charleyboy was raised by her grandmother Sandra English.
“Her grandma taught her our history, our legends and genealogy,” Cooper said.
Charleyboy learned who was related to who and her family history going back before the Tsilhqot’in War of 1864.
Today Charleyboy continues her traditions. She gathers berries and medicinal plants, hunts, fishes and still rides horses into the mountains.
“Her uncle had lots of horses and he helped raise her too,” Cooper said of her mom.
Anticipating the trip, Charleyboy said she is proud. She isn’t a stranger to Ottawa though. Her husband, the late Patrick Charleyboy, was chief of Redstone for eight years.
“We grew up in a very political home,” Cooper said. “We get it from our mom,” she chuckled.
Anaham elder Christine Cooper, 83, was the only child in her family who never went to school.
She grew up working hard, she said.
“I hunted, trapped, fished, hayed and raked, often using horse-drawn machines.”
Those are memories she shared when she testified.
For Delia William, 68, the trip to Ottawa is her first beyond the B.C. border. Her husband, Joseph, testified at the original case, but his health is bad, so William said she is representing him.
On Nov. 7, the sole issue before the Supreme Court will be Aboriginal title and Chief Roger William said the outcome can be expected to profoundly shape the future of Canada’s Aboriginal people.
Addressing the travellers, visiting Carrier Chief Martin Louie said it took 90 years for the government to realize that First Nations were harvesting fish in a sustainable way.
“I have hope we will legally live off our resources again,” Martin said.
Standing next to Alphonse, Mayor Kerry Cook said despite differences in opinions, there are common concerns.
“As people, as parents, as neighbours, as partners, we care about our future, we care about our children and we want the best for our people,” Cook said. “I look around the crowd and I see a number of chiefs who I respect and I see that despite the challenges and differences today gives me hope.”
The bus travelled to Calgary Wednesday, and will stop in every province and arrive in Ottawa by Nov. 5 for several events leading up to the day in court.