A recently repatriated petroglyph rock is at the centre of a controversy in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
After two years of working with the Museum of Vancouver, the Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (formerly known as the Canoe Creek Nation) celebrated the rock’s return to the Churn Creek Protected Area on June 13.
The rock had been removed from the Crowsbar area on the Fraser River in 1926, first residing in Stanley Park and then at the Museum of Vancouver.
On the morning of the repatriation celebration, Tlet’inqox chief Joe Alphonse contacted the Tribune, saying the markings on the rock were Tsilhqot’in.
While he applauded the petroglyph’s return, he said his nation would be holding its own ceremony in the near future.
Alphonse also complained there was no consultation with his nation by either the Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem or the Museum of Vancouver over the petroglyph rock’s repatriation.
Two weeks later, the Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem issued a press lease voicing its disappointment.
In the release, Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem chief Hank Adam said it was unfortunate that the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) has challenged the repatriation.
“My late grandfather and father lived in Stswecem’c and Stswepe’7eca (Crowsbar) all their lives and there are no accounts of Tsilhqot’in speaking people living in or near the area,” Adam said, adding the Tsilhqot’in never lived in the round pit-homes, which were the traditional winter homes of the Secwepemc people.
The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) have been trying for more than four years to negotiate a resolution of the boundary with the TNG, Adam said.
“The TNG have suggested that consultation by Stswecem’c/Xgat/tem should have taken place prior to the rock coming home. TNG felt this was necessary because the petroglyph went through TNG territory. This has been strongly disputed by the Secwepemc, and the Tsilhqot’in continue to refuse to work on an agreement with the NStQ boundary,” the press release stated, adding the TNG refuse to engage in constructive resolution issues between the two nations and are making public statements and asserting territory far beyond their traditional territory.
“It appears that the Tsilhqot’in want to attempt to establish a claim to Secwepemc Territory through the media.
“This is unfortunate and we certainly hope that they will reconsider the benefit of entering into a constructive relationship.”
Alphonse took exception to the statements in the press release and told the Tribune Thursday he was astounded.
“I think it’s absolutely disrespectful and I’m taken aback,” Alphonse said. “They’re the ones that went through the media announcing the repatriation of the petroglyph rock without notifying us. It’s not just us that they did that too. The Lilooett Nation contacted us and want to have a joint ceremony with us so we’re in contact regarding that.”
Regarding the overlap of boundaries, and the discussions between the two parties, Alphonse alleged NStQ has not moved an inch in the four years of meetings.
“There’s give and take on both sides. When dealing with those issues, those issues we insist should include community members and elders. What we’re talking about and are most interested in is healing, because in dealing with that, you have to deal with the intertribal warfare that happened and occurred. You have to bury the hatchet,” Alphonse said.
“If we can’t do that then there’s no use coming to an agreement on a boundary because at the end of the day our biggest interest is healing for all First Nations in and around Williams Lake,” Alphonse said and added he’s willing to go into any of the communities and talk about this issue with community members.
When asked why he hadn’t raised concerns about the repatriation in advance of the repatriation celebration, Alphonse said the TNG would have entrusted the Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem to take the lead.
“For whatever reason that fell through the tracks. Some of that we will have to look at ourselves and ask what happened on our end. We have referral workers at the national office that didn’t deem this as a priority, but those things are very important,” Alphonse said.
Museum of Vancouver director of collections and exhibitions Joan Seidl was unavailable for comment by press time.
However, on the museum’s website a posting by Seidl about the repatriation referred to the overlapping outstanding land claims between the two groups.
“At the MOV we did due diligence to find the appropriate nation to whom to repatriate the rock,” the post says. “We researched the records thoroughly and consulted an expert in petroglyphs who knew the general area well. We approached the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem in good faith. It is the MOV’s hope that the return of the rock will be an occasion for unity and empowerment among all the First Nations of the region. The decision to place the rock at Churn Creek may aid in this, as it’s a traditional gathering place and point of trade for many interior First Nations.”