Reclaiming his Tsilhqot’in identity has not been easy for Chief Russell Myers Ross who says he used to be ashamed of his origins.
Myers Ross who is now an outspoken advocate for his community of Yunesit’in (Stone) located 90 kilometres west of Williams Lake participated in a nine part series Voices From Here by Historica Canada that shares oral histories of territories and treaties, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, languages and traditional knowledge from the perspective of Indigenous participants.
Having completed his master’s in Indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, he said he had no intention of running for chief and had only decided to put his name forward in 2012 after being relentlessly pressured by his uncle.
Today with nearly eight years of experience as Chief, Myers Ross shares in the 12 and a half minute episode of Voices from Here how stories of his past and present have shaped him and his understanding of governance, and the challenges of building a nation from scratch.
“I’ve always thought about how I would try to transmit my project that I did for my master’s program on Indigenous governance through the University of Victoria,” he said.
“I thought this would be an opportunity to highlight my story, and the story I created and weave it into what governance is like for myself and the Tsilhqot’in Nation.”
Historica Canada’s Director of Programs and Education, Bronwyn Graves said they relied heavily on the guidance of their advisory circle when selecting their participants.
“We were eager to interview someone who could speak to modern Indigenous governance and Chief Myers Ross is an outspoken advocate for his community,” she said. “His voice and his experiences make him an obvious fit for this series.”
Having survived countless devastation such as smallpox, Myers Ross said only 24 people were registered when the Yunesit’in First Nation’s reserve was created.
Today, he said it has almost 450 on-reserve members who continue to face new modern challenges such as reclaiming their identity, becoming free of the Indian Act and continuing to hold their core values.
Graves said the stories including those of Myers Ross are part of a bigger history that has often been overlooked in classrooms, and that the project was conceived on the idea that truth is necessary for reconciliation.
“Oral history and memory are educational tools that can build mutual understanding and challenge simplified or sanitized histories,” she said. “Stories are a powerful teaching tool and therefore are an important part of our shared reconciliation journey. Our goal with this project was to shed light on Indigenous histories of resilience and resurgence.”
Historica Canada is looking for members of reserves, band and other Indigenous communities to share the histories of their communities in their program The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Interested individuals can email firstname.lastname@example.org
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