Tsilhqot’in Nation members and guests gathered in Williams Lake for the 158th Annual Lhats’as?in Memorial Day to honour the Tsilhqot’in war chiefs that were hanged in Quesnel on Oct. 26, 1864.
Since 1999, the Tsilhqot’in Nation has recognized the day as a national holiday, encouraging members to honour the hanged war chiefs – Chief Lhats’as?in, Chief Biyil, Chief Tellot, Chief Tahpitt, Chief Chayses and Chief Ahan,
The chiefs murdered road crew members in an effort to protect their territory against further cases of small pox, which had decimated an estimated 70 per cent of the Tsilhqot’in people between June 1862 and January 1983.
It is important to bring awareness to the history of the region, said Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse.
“We are so rich in history here in the Cariboo Chilcotin. Being one of only two First Nations in Canada to ever declared war on non-Indigenous people. How we look at British Columbia today is reflected by the actions of these warriors. Five of the six warriors had large part to play in Tsilhqot’in getting Aboriginal rights and title recognized.”
In March 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally exonerated the war chiefs in the House of Commons and followed up by visiting Tsilhqot’in territory in November 2018.
Alphonse said it was the first time the memorial event had been hosted in Williams Lake, with the event being hosted at the TNG’s South Lakeside office.
“Most of the time the location is out in pretty remote areas, but a lot of our membership lives off-reserve, and mostly in Williams Lake, so it gave them a chance to participate,” he said. “It went well, we had a good turn out.”
A highlight of the three-hour memorial, held at the Tshilqot’in National Government office grounds at South Lakeside, was a performance by students of Annette Frank at Alexis Creek Elementary School, Alphonse added.
B.C. Assembly of First Nations Chief Terry Tegee, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars, the six Tsilhqto’in chiefs, TNG executive director Jenny Philbrick, Joyce Charleyboy, Yeqox Nilin Justice Society and New Westminster city councillor Chuck Puchmayr spoke at the event, as well as new Williams Lake mayor-elect Surinderpal Rathor.
Sellars said it was an honour to attend.
“We are seeing this change of the guard with this new era of unity,” Sellars said. “It started out with the local municipal election, but also seeing the Secwepemc and Tsilhqot’in and neighbouring communities come together.”
Sellars said he was very encouraged being there and being a part of the memorial, welcoming everyone to the territory and talking about how important it was to stand together.
“To see the mayor-elect and some councillors there was great. When we talk about healing it will be about us standing together as First Nations and non-First Nations.”
National Chief Archibald was expected to attend but had to cancel due to a family matter.