For countless generations before the arrival of settlers, the ʔEsggidam, ancestors of the Tsilhqot’in, thrived in the Chilcotin as a powerful nation, guided by the wisdom of their legends and the laws.
The ʔEsggidam were healthy and strong – as individuals, families, communities and a Nation. They had a rich culture and deep spiritual connection with the lands and resources that sustained their people.
With the arrival of Europeans came a dark chapter. Tsilhqot’in history speaks of the intentional spread of smallpox eradicating entire families and villages. The Nation successfully waged war against the colonial government in 1864, and when Tsilhqot’in war Chiefs entered the camp of the colonial militia under a flag of truce to negotiate peace, they were betrayed, wrongly arrested and tried for murder. Six Chiefs were hanged.
In the decades that followed, the Tsilhqot’in faced an onslaught: the taking of their lands, the devastating impacts of the residential school system, the imposition of the Indian Act, and mass apprehension of their children.
On October 23, 2014, Premier Christy Clark apologized for the wrongful hanging of the six Tsilhqot’in war chiefs and confirmed the full exoneration of the chiefs to the extent of the Province’s ability.
This redress marked a first step toward reconciliation with the Tsilhqot’in Nation and reinforced the importance of working together to build a better future and address the continuing challenges associated with colonization and Indian residential schools.
Despite historical wrongs and continuing challenges, the Tsilhqot’in people remain strong and resilient. Their culture and connection to their lands is powerful, alive, and grows stronger each day.
On June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Aboriginal title in the caretaker area of the Xeni Gwet’in, one of six Tsilhqot’in communities. The court decision was the first of its kind and the implications for the Tsilhqot’in and all British Columbians are immense.
Since the ruling, the provincial government and the Tsilhqot’in have focused on developing a solid government-to-government relationship aimed at achieving economic sustainability and improving the social well-being of the Tsilhqot’in communities. Reducing conflict on the land and closing the socio-economic gap between the Tsilhqot’in people and non-Aboriginal British Columbians is of paramount importance.
The Tsilhqot’in vision is to fully restore their Nation to the power of the ʔEsggidam. They enter reconciliation negotiations as one step on that path.
Together the Tsilhqot’in and the Government of British Columbia call upon all British Columbians to support us working as true partners to see the Tsilhqot’in people restored to their rightful place, sharing fully in the wealth and benefits of this beautiful Province.
Working in partnership, the Province and the Tsilhqot’in have created a reconciliation framework agreement to define the next phase of negotiations which will address the interests of both parties in Tsilhqot’in territory and help bring the court decision to life. The agreement defines a role for Canada in the reconciliation process and commits both parties to engaging the federal government in this important work.
This reconciliation framework agreement outlines the next steps including immediately addressing priority areas such as governance, economic development, justice, health, education, social issues, and land and resource management. Reconciliation is challenging and important; it requires discussion, consensus-building and negotiation, but it is the only option that brings the real possibility of transformation, healing and growth.
A tremendous opportunity stands before all of us, if we can overcome conflict and truly recognize and celebrate our different cultures, laws and governance, and our responsibilities to our lands and our future generations.
It is our sincere hope that this Agreement offers an opportunity for healing and for building a better Province, for the Tsilhqot’in people and all British Columbians.