A historic reconciliation agreement to support Tsilqhot’in self-determination has been signed.
Chiefs of the six Tsilhqot’ in communities gathered late Wednesday morning with members and representatives of the Province and Canada outside of the Tsilhqot’in Negotiations Office in Williams Lake to sign the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement (“Towards it, We are Striving”).
“Today we come here in a gathering, in prayer, and in a ceremony. In front of me here I have a rock and paint as our ancestors before us we used petroglyphs, paint to mark a significance in our history, so today our leaders sit behind me,” said Tsilhqot’in youth ambassador Payel Laceese.
“They have signed a piece of paper in agreement, and working together between governments we integrate our modern way of doing things with pen and paper and our Tsilhqot’in way with rock and paint. So as our leaders come up to speak I’ll have them mark this rock, and this rock will stay with our Nations as a reminder of a path, a stepping stone that we’re laying in place for both our people to work together in a good way, to walk a path of positivity, and to have us move forward in the most positive way possible.”
Chief Russell Myers Ross called it a big event for them that started almost five years ago.
“The exoneration that happened last year both in Ottawa and on Title Lands in November really started this, and I think for us this represents really just the start of negotiations,” Myers said.
“This work is considered Nation to Nation; for us, we’re looking to building the Tsilhqot’in Nation and it’s a long rebuilding process because we’ve been under the Indian Act and we have to find ways to do things differently and unravel the colonial past that we’ve started with. I think really we want a better life for ourselves from housing to living conditions to just the treatment of our people and our relationship and the necessity that we have to do to make that connection.”
“Sometimes there are doubters on how federal and provincial government can help us but I think we need to engage,” Myers added.
“We need to be able to talk to governments about how we want to see things in our future and if we want to be self-determining we need to have those conservations, so this is a step along that direction.”
Assistant Deputy Minister, Reconciliation Transformation and Strategies Division, Jessica Wood called it an incredible honor to be in attendance with all of the Chiefs and the work that has led over the decades to get here today.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett described it a truly special occasion.
“We know as we see the playground and the little ones that they will now aspire to be able to speak their language and know their culture and the kind of leadership that the elders are giving every day as we start to write the wrongs and be able to have your young ones grow up not under the Indian Act, and be able to know that their potential is about being part of who they are and having that self-esteem and resilience that happens when you are a proud Chilcotin citizen,” Bennett said.
“For us to be together again is pretty special, but particularly to have the elders and the youth and community members and all the honored guests.”
Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse concluded the event before the sharing of gifts and a community feast.
“I just want to reassure everyone that we’re on the right road,” he said.
“When you’re in leadership your job is to try to make a better life for your people. Without agreements like this, we can’t do that.”