The Tsilhqot’in Nation has a lot to be thankful for, said Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Chief Joe Alphonse.
Since 1999, the Tsilhqot’in Nation has marked Lhats’as?in Memorial Day each Oct. 26 by recognizing it as a Nation holiday encouraging members to honor their war chiefs who gave them the strength to continue fighting for what is right.
In a virtual celebration commemorating Lhats’as?in Memorial Day this year Alphonse credited their six Tsilhqot’in war chiefs as paving the way for the Nation to claim Aboriginal land title more than 150 years following their wrongful hangings.
“Things aren’t perfect in this world but we do the best we can as much as we can, and incorporate a lot of those values into today’s modern world,” he said, noting of recent challenges stemming from alcohol and drugs including fentanyl which has resulted in overdose deaths.
“That’s why we pass this on to our younger people so that they don’t end up in that same place.”
The hanged chiefs —Chief Lhats’as?in, Chief Biyil, Chief Tellot, Chief Tahpitt, Chief Chayses and Chief Ahan paid the ultimate price in protecting their lands, women and children when a road crew entered the territory without the permission of Tsilhqot’in leadership, Alphonse said.
Prior to killing most of the men making up the camp of the road crew, the Tsilhqot’in war chiefs had witnessed small pox decimate thousands of their people who were on the brink of starvation.
After accepting an invitation to meet with colonial leaders to discuss terms of peace, the chiefs were betrayed, arrested, convicted and later hanged.
“It is the fight that our ancestors left for us to keep fighting, and I think that’s very important for industry and government to realize that we’re still here,” said Tl’esqox (Toosey) Chief Francis Laceese.
“Until all levels of government and industry understand the genocide will continue until they return everything back to us so that our people can continue on with their lives and live that traditional life with our language, our culture and our traditions, and we need that traditional food to survive.”
Five of the chiefs were hanged in Quesnel, just north of the city’s hospital, on Oct. 26, 1864 with the sixth chief executed in New Westminster the following year.
“We were told that we wouldn’t win and that we would lose,” Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua said of their Supreme Court challenge seeking Aboriginal land title.
“But the Chilcotin leaders pushed forward simply like our war chiefs regardless of if they were going to lose or not. They still fought for the right thing, and this time we won.”