Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse was invested into the Order of British Columbia March 3, 2022 for his accomplishments as an Indigenous leader. (BC Government photo)

Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse was invested into the Order of British Columbia March 3, 2022 for his accomplishments as an Indigenous leader. (BC Government photo)

Tsilhqot’in chief awarded Order of British Columbia for work as an Indigenous leader

Chief Joe Alphonse was recognized for his accomplishments at a ceremony March 3

Longtime Tsilhqot’in tribal chair and chief Joe Alphonse was one of 31 “exceptional people” invested into the Order of British Columbia during a formal ceremony at Government House on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

The Province’s highest honour, the Order of British Columbia’s evening ceremony highlighted the achievements of all the 2020 and 2021 recipients who were recognized for outstanding contributions to their communities and to the province.

In a conversation this week with the Tribune, Chief Alphonse said the event, where other distinguished guests such as Dr. Bonnie Henry were honoured, was “spectacular” and that he was honoured to be a part of it.

“Never in my life did I imagine getting anything like that,” said Alphonse, who is a Tsilhqot’in hereditary chief and also a seven-time elected chief of the Tl’etinqox-t’in First Nation, also known as Anaham.

“You plug along every day trying to create a better quality of life for the people you represent and what we have accomplished as a nation … has given hope to Indigenous people not only here in Canada but worldwide. So it’s beyond anything I could imagine or wish for.

“It tells you that everything that you’ve done in your life has been noticed, has been recognized and, you know, it’s pretty awesome.”

Alphonse is the first to acknowledge the fact that he has been a controversial figure with the government and in the region over his many years in Indigenous leadership, taking on everything from mining companies, to the historic rights and title case, advocating for the exoneration of the six hanged war chiefs, to the RCMP during the 2017 wildfires, to name a few.

“I think that makes it even more special. They know the obstacles that I have had to overcome over the years and to leave that kind of footprint in Canadian history, I think a lot of them look across and they end up respecting what you’ve done.”

Alphonse said he would not have achieved all that he has without being surrounded by a strong team and good people, noting he is most proud of developing relationships made out of respect.

“Both the Premier of British Columbia and the Prime Minister of Canada, I can sit across the table from them and have a coffee. I think there’s respect both ways. When I started this game you weren’t even allowed to mention Aboriginal rights in any political setting. You’d get kicked out.

“There’s a lot to be proud of.”

When asked if the acknowledgment will improve his relationship with provincial and federal politicians, Alphonse said he has always had respect for all levels of government.

“You have to recognize what they represent and you have to work within that system, and if that system isn’t favourable for you then you have to change the rules of that game, and I think the government today is a much friendlier and respectful government than when we first started this game and that’s what we are trying to accomplish.”

Alphonse said he will continue to work to have Indigenous people included throughout every level of policy development, which he believes creates a better Canada, “and I think that’s a benefit to everyone.”

He will also keep using his passion for his people to his advantage.

“You gotta have some fight in you. The obstacles that were laid down in front of us as Indigenous people were huge and to be passive isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to be proud of who you are and proud of where you’ve come from. That’s something I’ve always had, I’m a proud Tsilhqot’in member, and I’m a proud British Columbian and a proud Canadian and we believe this country is the best country in the world so we want to be a part of it, and we want to be a meaningful part of it.”

In the future, improving the overall health of the nation will continue to be a challenge, he said, as the pandemic has heightened the issues of those struggling, including trauma left from residential schools. He encourages his people to live an authentic life, free from drugs and alcohol. Continuing a healthy dialogue and working to create opportunity will help.

“It took 150 years to get to this state, we’re not going to suddenly become healthy people overnight. Our people have faced a lot of traumas and knowing and understanding that is the start of dealing with these things … it will become easier as more awareness is raised.”

Alphonse said he doesn’t know when his last day representing people will be.

“But I do know that when I leave I can say that I gave it everything that I’ve had with the abilities that I have and I’d like to believe I’ve represented my people in a fair and just way as I can and that I’ve left a footprint.

“I yearn for the day when I don’t have to represent anyone, I yearn for the day of operating my own little cattle business and not have anyone but my cattle to answer to.”

Biography of Chief Joe Alphonse of Tsilhqot’in Nation

“Chief Joe Alphonse comes from a long line of hereditary leaders. He has given expression to his lineage of leadership by being re-elected seven times in a row.

Chief Joe led his people to a major Supreme Court of Canada 2014 Aboriginal land title win. This led to work on recognition at the federal level, as well as paved the way for the acceptance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the federal and provincial levels.

After the 2014 court win, Chief Joe supported advocating for the exoneration of the six Tŝilhqot’in chiefs who were unjustly executed more than 130 years ago. Chief Joe was on the floor of the House of Commons to hear directly the acknowledgment of the prime minister of this historic wrong. The Province of B.C. also exonerated the six war chiefs.

Chief Joe championed support for establishment of the Tŝilhqot’in Women’s Council, which forms a part of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government structure.

He is tireless in his efforts to support issues with his people in all socio-economic areas, is adept at navigating the often difficult field of politics including at the global level having presented at the United Nations permanent forum on Indigenous issues.

Chief Joe speaks his language fluently. He is also sought out to give speeches and provide support to other First Nations people and issues, and is particularly supported and recognized for his efforts to support women’s issues.

Chief Joe is a fierce and determined protector of his people and land and achieved wide acclaim for his courageous leadership during the wildfires of 2017.”

Read More: ‘A year like no other’: Tsilhqot’in chief reflects on 2021

Read More: VIDEO: Anaham residents find strength in fighting fires

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Dr. Bonnie Henry and Chief Joe Alphonse were among those invested into the Order of British Columbia this week. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse photo)

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Chief Joe Alphonse were among those invested into the Order of British Columbia this week. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse photo)

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