Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua said his community has experienced a rash of vandalism including to his own truck.
“They’ve smashed vehicles, slashed tires and attacked mainly vehicles of our frontline staff, which is pretty sad,” Lulua said, adding there have also been incidents of people shooting at houses. “Having the pandemic lock-down and closing our gates kind of exposed some people who deal drugs and bootleg. We kind of know who they are, but we cannot prove it.”
Lulua spoke to a few suspects, asked them if they acknowledged the vandalism was wrong and asked what they were going to do to ‘make it right.’ Xeni Gwet’in does not have any law enforcement staff of its own and the Alexis Creek RCMP is the nearest detachment, which is more than a one-hour drive. By putting a post on his Facebook about the vandalism, Lulua hopes to have slowed the vandals down, but said if they are going to attack a chief they are ’just gaining momentum.’
“This will get worse before it gets better. We will hold them accountable. In our traditional laws we are the enforcement. If they are from this community they should have enough knowledge of their identity that they should not be affecting any other Xeni Gwet’ins.”
He said it is probably three or less people involved with the vandalism, who come and go into the community, but doing enough damage to put a sour taste in people’s mouths.
“I think the community is strong enough that if they see them coming around to their places they tell them they don’t want them there because it’s a toxic energy they bring with them. I am proud of the community for telling me when that happens.”
As a result of the vandalism, local elders have decided to develop a declaration outlining their expectations for being a community member.
“They want it to say what a Xeni Gwet’in member looks like and what they don’t want to see. They are going to draft up what it will look like and do a video in the new year with the elders and the youth,” Lulua said. “The elders will be speaking in our language and the youth in English exactly what the declaration states.”
The chief thinks it will be a powerful message and an opportunity to also educated community members who live off-reserve.
“It is a good reminder to be a good person. When we explain our identity we always say who our parents are because that’s who we represent. I think those types of reminders are good.”
It is important that every Xeni Gwet’in member feels supported no matter what they have done, he added, noting if someone has done wrong they need to acknowledge it and figure out how they are going to repair relationships. Lulua said there has been an increase in drug use and mental wellness is at an all-time low, something he has heard from other Tsilhqot’in chiefs about their communities as well.
“It was already low but then you add the pandemic and the residential school findings – it all impacts our community.”
His own community lacks a wellness centre and a hockey rink, he said.
“Of course we have a beautiful back yard, but not everyone has the ability to go ice fishing and different things.”
The community gathered for the first time in a long time to celebrate with a Christmas lunch on Wednesday, Dec. 15, something that was definitely needed and Lulua said there are some other events planned going into the new year to help keep people’s spirits up. New housing will be coming to the community and plans to develop an equestrian centre are being considered, he added.
“We are going to be opening our lodge this year too so there are some positive things happening, but they require a lot of work and dedication, good leaders and good managers.”