Comments by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod in Parliament on Monday, March 26, 2018 on the Liberal government’s exoneration of Chilcotin chiefs involved in the 1864 Chilcotin War.
I RISE TODAY on behalf of Canada’s Conservatives to mark a sombre milestone in the history of British Columbia and that of Canada. We hope that today’s apology and exoneration will address some of the pain that still exists within the hearts of the Tsilhqot’in people.
Here in 2018, we may ask ourselves what an apology can achieve. Moments such as this cannot change behaviour from another era or fix the past. We can, however, recognize the clear lasting and profound impact that former actions have had and the scars that have not been healed.
We join in apology and recognition today to acknowledge how our shared history can create understanding in the present and co-operation in the future.
More than 150 years ago, before Confederation, and at a time when Canada was a land equally steeped in opportunity and in conflict, the Tsilhqot’in
people found themselves face to face with newcomers to their homeland. As
has happened so often throughout history, collisions between indigenous people and new settlers can lead to misunderstanding, fear, and violence.
The Tsilhqot’in, facing a new presence on their homeland that was accompanied neither by meaningful outreach nor diplomacy, did as many of us would have done. They sought to protect their communities. Open war was
declared and the pivotal moment in the conflict saw confrontations between the Tsilhqot’in and a group of workers near Bute Inlet. The Tsilhqot’in began a campaign to remove settlers from their lands, lands that had been arbitrarily declared open and free for access by arriving European peoples.
As the war dragged on, an agreement was struck between the Tsilhqot’in and colonial representatives to meet to discuss diplomatic terms. In a clear act of betrayal, the Tsilhqot’in leaders, who had arrived unarmed to the meeting, were arrested and taken into custody. They were tried for murder.
On October 26, five of the Tsilhqot’in chiefs were hanged and a sixth in the following year. They were Chief Lhats’as?in, Chief Biyil, Chief Tilaghed, Chief Taqed, Chief Chayses, and Chief Ahan.
The purpose of today’s ceremony is to mark the exoneration of the Tsilhqot’in chiefs. Neither criminals nor aggressors, they may be regarded by all as having done what many of us would have considered normal and just:
defended their lands, their communities, and their families, defended their way of life.
Canadian governments of all kinds can demonstrate a record of continued progress in relations between indigenous people in Canada. Certainly, we were proud of some of the strides that we made as the last government in
terms of a relationship with first nations, Inuit, and Métis. Those strides often came with a sorrowful and respectful recognition of wrongdoing on the part of Canada and our forebears.
None, of course, better exemplifies this commitment than the apology to the former students of the residential schools. There was also the historic creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the apology for
relocation of Inuit families to the high Arctic, and the honouring of Métis veterans at Juno Beach, among other milestones, but the work clearly has not ended and it must continue.
It is appropriate that we work today toward a better understanding between the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Canada. The Tsilhqot’in people of today contribute to the shared prosperity of beautiful British Columbia, a place so many of us are proud to call home. Their historic suffering has been recognized and remembered by successive provincial governments.
As the words inscribed on what is today the site of the execution of those Tsilhqot’in chiefs tells us, we must “honour those who lost their lives in defence of the territory and the traditional way of life”. We recognize the inconsolable grief that has echoed through their nation and reverberates even today.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of 2014 recognized aboriginal title for the Tsilhqot’in Nation, an important moment for their nation, but one that also recognized them as a centuries long steward of their beautiful land.
I personally have enjoyed first-hand the majesty of the territory, mountains, rivers, and valleys, the abundant wildlife, and of course, the unique and fascinating wild horses. As the wildfires ravaged through the land last summer, we can understand what a significant impact it was to the Tsilhqot’in people, another loss to overcome.
Conservatives also hope that today’s apology is an important step for an improved relationship so that all residents of the Tsilhqot’in can live side by side in harmony and enjoy mutual prosperity.
We thank and honour the presence of the Tsilhqot’in Nation here in the House of Commons today. This is a place where we can help define Canada for this generation and the next. We hope that today and in the future it can also be a place that the Tsilhqot’in can regard as a place of progress, reconciliation, and co-operation.