Tsilhqot’in chiefs travel to New York City to speak on Indigenous struggles at United Nations

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues ( UNPFII) is taking place April 23-May 3

Tsilhqot’in Chief Joe Alphonse, Chief Francis Laceese, Chief Otis Guichon Sr and Chief Jimmy Lulua are in New York this week for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). Photo submitted

Four chiefs from the Tsilhqot’in Nation are in New York City this week in hopes the triumphs and struggles of their people will be heard by the United Nations.

“We are here to learn and observe,” Chief and Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse said in a telephone interview with the Tribune Monday from New York.

“It’s a great opportunity and we’ll see what comes from it.”

The trip is a historic first visit for the delegation including Alphonse, Chief Francis Laceese, Chief Otis Guichon Sr and Chief Jimmy Lulua, who want to have a voice at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), held in New York City from April 23-May 3.

“We are trying to familiarize ourselves with the process. We would only get three minutes, but three minutes on the world stage is huge. We want to make sure the Tsilhqot’in story is told on a world stage. It’s an inspirational story for many Indigenous people.”

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Already, Alphonse said the chiefs have connected and found similarities with an Indigenous group from Guatemala and their fight with mining companies. Of course, the Tsilhqot’ins have waged a long-standing legal battle of their own here in B.C. against New Prosperity at Teztan Biny and, after 25 years in the Canadian court system, made history in 2014 when the Supreme Court of Canada recognized Aboriginal title for the first time ever in Canada.

But still, like Indigenous peoples around the world, Alphonse said the Tsilhqot’in continue to face dire threats to their spirituality and way of life, such as that intense pressure for mining activity.

The chiefs hope in sharing their story, the United Nations will put pressure on the provincial and federal governments on their behalf.

“I believe in Canada, I believe in B.C., but when those resources come off our land a piece of that pie should come to us for us to decide how to use it. We live in poverty, we have to fight to have clean drinking water yet we are rich with resources on our lands,” Alphonse said.

“Those resources belong to us — the message here is to recognize Indigenous governments and include them in decision making.”

It will only be when Canadian governments do that, he said, that the country will reach its full potential.

Alphonse said Wednesday is the day they hope to speak at the United Nations, however, if it doesn’t happen this year they are still honoured to be there, learning the process and meeting other Indigenous groups from around the world.

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