A total of 17 people work at RBC Royal Bank in Williams Lake. All but one who was away from the office participated in a two-day Indigenous cultural and historical training session. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Tsilhqot’in chief helps lead Indigenous cultural and historical training at RBC Royal Bank

Williams Lake staff undergo training by Chief Joe Alphonse and Chastity Davis

Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse could not be deterred from helping lead Indigenous cultural and historical training for RBC Royal Bank of Canada staff in Williams Lake.

Despite being on the mend since suffering a heart attack in July that required open heart surgery, Alphonse and his fiancée Chastity Davis attended the local branch to deliver Indigenous cultural and historical training to staff on Sept. 16 and 17.

Covering important historical topics, Alphonse shared Tsilhqot’in worldview, values, ways of being and knowing. Chastity who works as an Indigenous relations consultant, meanwhile, shared the creation of the oppressive Indian Act and the impacts it has had and continues to have over Indigenous peoples’ lives.

“This town needs an overhaul in their approach in dealing with First Nations people,” Alphonse said, noting Indigenous people are a big part of the local economy.

“There has to be a shift in how they work and view and deal with First Nations people, and we hope this is going to be part of that solution.”

Read More: Williams Lake First Nation voice concern with Lac la Hache-area mining activities

Attending the first day of training was Martin Thibodeau, regional president, British Columbia of RBC Royal Bank who had arrived from Vancouver.

“It was a privilege to host Chief Joe Alphonse and Chastity at a local Williams Lake branch to speak to our employees, and again build stronger partnerships and stronger relationships with his government,” Thibodeau said, noting RBC Royal Bank has a long history of building relationships with Indigenous people across the country.

“It’s very important to us as we explore moving to create economic growth and ways to partner together moving forward.”

After the first day of training wrapped up early Wednesday afternoon, Alphonse took Thibodeau to his community of Tl’etinqox (Anaham) approximately 100 kilometers west of Williams Lake to see first-hand the devastating effects of the 2017 wildfires.

This year Tl’etinqox is striving to move forward on a number of capital projects worth approximately $35 million which were delayed.

Read More: B.C. First Nation breaks ground on $4.5 million gas bar in the Chilcotin

Staff with Tl’etinqox’s equine program as well as youth riders provided Thibodeau with a horse demonstration before everyone went horse riding down to the river where a water ceremony took place.

“In our culture when guests come you feed them before you send them home, so they got to have some supper before we sent them off,” Alphonse added.

Earlier this year RBC Royal Bank offered its sincere apology to Tl’etinqox in a letter to Alphonse dated April 24 after on-reserve members were reportedly denied service just one day before a 14-day lockdown went into effect due to a COVID-19 scare.

“We solved that by connecting with chief and council, and that’s behind us,” Thibodeau said, noting the extreme challenges COVID-19 initially presented across the province before and shortly after it was declared a global health crisis.

“As we did in the past with Chief Joe we looked at ways to really strengthen our relationships and during the summer that evolved into making this safe and socially distanced manner to come together and celebrate on our partnership and learn more about his First Nation and First Nations in general,” he said.

Read More: Indigenous company to launch First Nations banking app

Since 2008, RBC Royal Bank has documented their path of commitment to the Indigenous community through their annual partnership report — A Chosen Journey.

“This is something we would like to expand and partner with Chastity and other speakers that can help to bridge or connect together and enhance our relationships,” Thibodeau said, noting he was also able to participate in a fireside chat with Orange Shirt Society founder and executive director Phyllis Webstad whose story is the inspiration for Orange Shirt Day.

On the last day of training, Alphonse told Black Press Media he believes RBC Royal Bank staff in Williams Lake will be able to take the experience and further grow.

“We’re thankful for them showing the leadership that they have to take on this challenge and we encourage other companies and business to do the same,” Alphonse said.

“Whether you’re a retail outlet or a mill here in Williams Lake you’re all going to come across and have to deal with First Nations one way or another.”

Read More: Forest products company to sponsor annual nation-wide Orange Shirt Day art contest

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