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Tŝilhqot’in Nation eyes 10th anniversary of historic title win

The next 10 years is going to be just as exciting, said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation is preparing a three-day celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of its historic title win in the Supreme Court of Canada.

”We want to celebrate our elders and leaders who testified in the five-year trial,” said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William. “We want to honour them and their families.”

William said there were 26 elders and leaders who testified and there are only nine left so it is important to honour the family representatives and thank them for their contribution.

The celebration will take place at Nemiah Valley Lodge June 24 to 26, which Xeni Gwet’in First Nation purchased in 2019.

William said they have invited different Indigenous groups, government representatives, the Tsilhqot’in people who helped take care of the elders who testified whether by travelling with them or translating for them.

On June 26, 2014, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation was granted a declaration of Aboriginal title to 1,750 square kilometres of land.

It was the first time in Canada that Indigenous title was confirmed outside of a reserve.

With that title, came the right to decide how the land will be used, the right to economic benefits of the land and the right to pro-actively use and manage the land.

Reflecting on the past 10 years, William said there have been many highlights.

“The prime minister recognizing our war chiefs as heroes and coming to Nemiah Valley in 2018 to tell our people they exonerated our war chiefs was big,” he said.

There has been growth, training, education and employment development and one of the big advancements is gaining jurisdiction for Tŝilhqot’in children and families, he added.

The nation continues to work on its own governance, fisheries management, Tŝilhqot’in radio and preserving the culture.

“Each community is doing planning on the land,” he said.

Some of the progress of that work was slowed by the 2017 wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, however, through those experiences the nation has also been developing emergency co-management agreements.

In 2019, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation signed the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement with the federal and provincial governments, which has been a foundation of collaboration for the past five years, said Karine Vetvutanapibul, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, in an emailed response.

“Implementing the Tŝilhqot’in Nation decision in partnership is an example of how negotiation is a viable option to resolve outstanding issues and advance reconciliation together,” she noted.

“By building trusting relationships, Indigenous Peoples and Crown governments are able to share interests and priorities and develop agreements that provide a pathway for reconciling ownership of lands, jurisdictions and governance that promote a healthy and respectful co-existence.”

Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said in an email the provincial government will continue working collaboratively with Tŝilhqot’in leaders and the federal government with long-term negotiations and engaging with local businesses and organizations, tenure holders and local governments as they work through this transition.

“There is still much work to be done in collaboration with the Tŝilhqot’in Nation as we continue to further negotiations, build a shared understanding of the land and resource management priorities and opportunities across the territory, and find solutions that work for people,” Rankin said.

Looking ahead to the 10-year anniversary of the Tŝilhqot’in decision in June, which he described as an important milestone in the province’s government-to-government relationship, Rankin noted they are continuing to make progress together on new approaches to implementing the Tŝilhqot’in Decision to secure a bright future and providing stability for everyone.

William said the title win has connected the Tŝilhqot’in with other Indigenous people world-wide.

“Having a title land win in Canada and B.C. is a good thing for us all because it is connecting everyone,” he said. “I see a lot of different agreements in B.C. and Canada, Indigenous with governments, Indigenous with businesses.”

The next 10 years is going to be just as exciting, he added.

William was elected chief in February 2023 for a five-year term. Before that he was chief from 1991 to 2008, and 2013 to 2018.

READ MORE: Tsilhqot’in win Aboriginal title case

READ MORE: VIDEO AND SLIDESHOW: Federal government signs letter of understanding with Tsilhqot’in Nation

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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