After growing up feeling bitter, angry and that he had no future in some ways, the newly-elected chief of Yunesit’in (Stone Indian Band) is looking toward the future with hope.
“I was lucky to have a brother that was going to university in Victoria so I went there too,” 30-year-old Russell Myers Ross says.
He pursued a sociology degree, with a minor in philosophy.
He spent 1.5 years in Williams Lake and then returned to the University of Victoria to obtain a master’s degree in indigenous governance.
In high school, Myers Ross felt he didn’t have any role models around to help him learn and to understand his First Nations ancestry.
His mom Madeline Myers had lived in Stone, although she was taken away to attend residential school, but he often visited Stone until he was 10. He also spent time out at Little Sapeye Lake, southwest of Tatla Lake, while he was growing up, going there with his father David Ross.
“My dad grew up in Calgary and Vancouver and came out to the Fish Lake Cultural Education Centre in the late 60s and 70s.”
Myers Ross says it was at a time when all 15 First Nations bands worked as one and the focus was on revitalizing the language, trying to tackle alcoholism and offer alternative education.
University helped him understand his life in a broader context.
He did his thesis on an old Tsilhqot’in story called Salmon Boy.
“A boy ends up falling into the river and flows all the way down to the Coast. He turns into a fish and learns how to come back home. That’s kind of the story that I live by because I went to Victoria and then found new eyes and came back like a fish four years later,” his says with a wide grin.
By 2007, he was living in Williams Lake again, finishing his thesis, and when he graduated in 2010 he was hired as a sessional at Thompson Rivers University’s Williams Lake Campus, to teach political science.
This fall he’ll be teaching a First Nations studies course, he says.
Prior to his election as chief, he hadn’t thought about entering politics. Even leading up to the election, he was a bit sidetracked — his first baby Nalina Rose was born three days before to him and his wife Patricia Weber, a lawyer in Williams Lake.
He credits his uncle and former chief Ivor Myers for encouraging him to consider running.
“He was chief for about 17 years and a few more years on council. He was pushing me, partly because of my education and partly because he felt I was qualified and had enough respect from community members.”
As he begins to tackle his position, he’s moved by a conviction that “land is life,” and that the preservation of home land and language revitalization are crucial.
There are also issues around housing at Yunesit’in where in some instances 13 to 16 people are living in one home.
Around 400 people are part of the community, with 200 living on reserve.
Before becoming chief he spent time learning more of the Tsilhqot’in language and songs from elders, and would love to continue; however, he realizes there are more pressing things to worry about.
There’s forestry and its effect on moose habitat and proposed mining projects and the challenge to be informed and involved.
“You want to be in a good position where you feel like you’re in a real partnership,” he explains. “You do want to hear companies out, but there is always that concern about justice and that native people in B.C. never had an agreement or a treaty.”