Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has exonerated six Tsilhqot’in chiefs and apologized for their execution more than 150 years ago.
“I know that this posthumous exoneration cannot by itself repair the damage that has been done,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons Monday. “It is my sincere hope, though, that it will allow healing to begin as Canada and the Tsilhqot’in Nation embark on a new journey together toward reconciliation. This is another important step forward to recognize and support the implementation of the rights of the Tsilhqot’in and all Indigenous Peoples, enshrined in our Constitution.”
In 1864, the six Tsilhqot’in chiefs led a war against a crew building a road through the First Nation’s land without any legal agreement. A colonialist leader then sent the chiefs a peace offering and offered to negotiate. The chiefs accepted, but when they went to the colonialist camp, they were arrested, imprisoned and later hanged for murder.
“They acted as leaders of a proud and independent nation facing the threat of another nation,” Trudeau said, as six current leaders of the B.C. First Nation listened from the floor of the legislative chamber.
“As settlers came to the land in the rush for gold, no consideration was given to the rights of the Tsilhqot’in people who were there first,” he added. “No consent was sought.”
MP Cathy McLeod, the Conservative critic for Indigenous affairs, said the six Tsilhqot’in war chiefs did what anyone would have done in the same situation – defended their land, their families and their way of life.
“Moments such as this cannot change behaviour from another era,” McLeod said. “We can however recognize a clear lasting and profound impact that past actions have had and scars that have not been healed.”
NDP MP Guy Caron called it a “key part of reconciliation.”
“We did wrong and we will do better.”
– With files from The Canadian Press