This week members of the Tsilhqo’tin Nation will gather to mark the 153-year anniversary of the hanging of five chiefs during the Chilcotin War and a sixth chief who was hanged the following year in New Westminster.
Tsilhqot’in National Government Chair Chief Joe Alphonse said the chiefs paid the ultimate price for fighting for what they believed in back on Oct. 26, 1864.
“If they didn’t do that we wouldn’t be in the situation where we have been the first First Nations in Canada and the world to win title,” Alphonse said. “They started that fight. We need to thank them and make a big deal out of it as a way to send a message to our young people that we matter.”
The gathering will be held at Puntzi Creek that flows into Puntzi Lake about 190 kilometres west of Williams Lake at a spot Alphonse said is also significant to Tsilhqot’in history.
It is where William Manning was shot and killed at his Puntzi Lake homestead in May 1864.
“He was married to the daughter of Chief Alexis, but the Tsilhqot’ins decided that all non-Natives were going to be killed and he was warned and asked to leave,” Alphonse said. “When the warriors came they did what they said they were going to do.”
During the event there will be story telling, a ceremony, drumming, acknowledgements and a lunch.
“October is cold but this is the country we come from so we will just have to dress warm,” Alphonse said.
Since 2000, the Tsilhqot’in have been marking the anniversary in different communities across the region.
In 2014, then-Premier Christy Clark stood in the legislature in Victoria and said the government confirmed without reservation that the six chiefs were fully exonerated for any crime or wrongdoing.
Clark later installed a plaque near the Fraser River in Quesnel at the grave sites of the chiefs.
Alphonse said it is critical to involve youth in the anniversaries.
“We need to be proud,” he said. “A lot of us grew up taught to be ashamed of our heritage and taught to be ashamed of our own race.”
Throughout history, the Tsilhqot’in have battled from a nation perspective, not as individual bands, Alphonse added.
“The individual band process is not an Indigenous process, that’s something that was introduced and I think that’s been the secret of our success. You have to look at things as a nation if you want the utmost benefit. It may seem like you have less power but in the end collectively you have more.”
Alphonse is related to one of the chiefs that was hanged — Nits’il?inTelad.
“He was my great great great grandfather on my grandmother Mabel’s side,” he said.