Canada Day in Chase included more than just the waving of flags and cheering on of the nation.
Along with Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone’s reference to July 1, 1867, when the Dominion of Canada was formed, Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson, joined by Troy Thomas and Gerry Thomas, read the words of their ancestral chiefs who petitioned Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1910.
Stone read out an excerpt from the front page of the Globe newspaper written by publisher George Brown which, perhaps fittingly, was interrupted by the sounds of a CPR train passing by.
In referring to the new nation, Brown wrote, in part: “Old things have passed away. The history of old Canada, with its contracted bounds and limited divisions of upper and lower, east and west, has been completed. And this day, a new volume is opened…”
Remarked Stone: “I think it captures the excitement that people felt 150 years ago when this great nation of ours was founded.”
Stone also acknowledged that the Chase gathering was being held on Secwepemc territory, that there is much more reconciliation to do and “I am confident we can build an even greater nation by working together…”
Wilson read a statement from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who declared they would not participate in Canada 150, as it “is not representative of the history of our lands and territories, or of our present reality as indigenous peoples.”
The chiefs stated they will continue their work towards collectively forging a new path forward in the spirit of fairness, justice and hope, “which is built upon the solid foundation of the recognition of indigenous peoples’ aboriginal title and rights, treaty rights, and right of self-determination.”
Although the letter from more than 100 years ago from the chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau tribes of B.C. was presented to Laurier during a visit to Kamloops in August of 1910, Wilson and the Thomases pointed out it could have been written recently.
The chiefs had welcomed Laurier graciously.
Wilson, as Coyote/Skelep, read: “We expect much of you as the head of this great Canadian Nation, and feel confident that you will see that we receive fair and honorable treatment. Our confidence in you has increased since we have noted of late the attitude of your government towards the Indian rights movement of this country and we hope that with your help our wrongs may at last be righted.”
However, Laurier lost the election the next year so did not help.
Gerry Thomas, as Bear/Squilax, who explained to the audience he had spent July 1 in the Kamloops residential school because children were kept there until late in the summer, read a part of the chiefs’ letter that told about how well ‘Indians’ were faring when white people first arrived.
“Fire, water, food, clothing and all the necessaries of life were obtained in abundance from the lands of each tribe, and all the people had equal rights of access to everything they required.”
Troy Thomas, as Silver Fox, spoke of how the chiefs’ letter is 100 years old, yet not many of the grievances have been addressed.
“We have also learned lately that the British Columbia government claims absolute ownership of our reservations, which means that we are practically landless,” the chiefs stated in 1910. “We only have loan of those reserves in life rent, or at the option of the B.C. government. Thus we find ourselves without any real homes in this, our own country.”