Mabel Solomon grew up hearing her Tsilhqot’in history and how six war chiefs were hanged for murder after they fought to protect their territory from road building.
“It was before my time,” the 94 year old told her daughter Dinah Lulua in the Tsilhqot’in language.
Solomon, her daughter, and son Bernie, were among about 100 people who gathered in the Gibraltar Room Monday to watch the live stream presentation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally exonerate and apologize for the hanging.
Throughout the region, the Tsilhqot’in National Government hosted similar events in each of the communities so residents could watch the proceedings and share a meal together.
“We drove three hours from Nemiah to be here today,” Dinah said.
As a young teenager, Dinah’s husband Jimmy Lulua Sr. also heard stories about the war chiefs.
“I never thought an apology would ever happen,” Jimmy said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Jimmy, who was MC for the event in the Gibraltar Room, said it was an honour to be asked.
“This exoneration of our war chiefs shows how strong our leadership is right now,” he said.
During Trudeau’s speech, the six present-day Tsilhqot’in chiefs — Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse, ?Esdilagh Chief Roy Stump, Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers Ross, Tl’esqox Chief Francis Laceese, Alexis Creek First Nation Chief Otis Guichon Sr. and newly-elected Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua sat in front of Trudeau in a circle on chairs.
The request to sit on the floor of the House Of commons was made by the Tsilhqot’in Nation and endorsed unanimously by all 338 Members of Parliament and the Speaker of the House.
Having the chiefs sitting there followed Tsilhqot’in protocol and was historic and unprecedented.
When Trudeau finished his speech people gathered in the Gibraltar Room applauded and uttered their appreciation.
When youth ambassador Peyal Laceese entered the House of Commons to sing and drum on the floor, back in Williams Lake the people gathered in the Gibraltar Room stood up to honour him as well.
Many of the men in the Gibraltar Room removed their hats while others took the opportunity to capture the moment on their cell phones.
Outside the House of Commons during a media scrum, Alphonse said the exoneration follows on the heels of the Tsilhqot’in rights and title win in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014.
“It has been a long time for our nation —154 years,” Alphonse said. “For too long we’ve suffered,” he told reporters.
Alphonse said there are too many Tsilhqot’in children in care, too many people in poverty, and too many people incarcerated.
“It’s time to change that.”
Conservative Kamloops Thompson Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod, speaking after the apology, said the exoneration cannot fix the past, but can recognize the lasting and profound impact that former actions have and the scars that have not been healed.
“We join with the apology and recognition today to acknowledge how a shared history can create understanding and co-operation for the future,” McLeod said.