We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

Apology and Exoneration of the Tsilhqot'in Chiefs by the Premier of British Columbia, the Honourable Christy Clark.

Thank you, Madame Speaker, fellow Members of the Legislative Assembly, guests and, of course, honoured chiefs of the Tsilhqot’in Nation who are here with us on the floor of the Legislature today. We come together today to acknowledge and to explain the wrongs done by past governments to the Tsilhqot’in people. We come today to talk about how we must overcome them and how we must take a new path of mutual respect, and to begin the process of healing. In the spring of 1864 the Tsilhqot’in people took action to defend their territory. It was a critical event in the conflict that we want to talk about today known as the Chilcotin War. Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Tsilhqot’in lived on and cared for their homelands. After the colony of British Columbia was established, Tsilhqot’in lands were declared open for access, without notice or without effort at diplomacy. Many newcomers made their way into the Interior. Some of those came into conflict with the Tsilhqot'in, and some brought with them an even greater danger. That was smallpox, which by some reliable historical accounts there is indication was spread intentionally. Facing the risk of extinction and in response to a series of threats, the Tsilhqot’in convened a council to declare war. The Tsilhqot’in attacked the road crew near Bute Inlet, and over the ensuing days they removed all settlers from their lands. The Tsilhqot’in war party took refuge in their territory beyond the reach of the colonial militia, who had threatened the Tsilhqot’in people. That summer gold commissioner William Cox sent the Tsilhqot’in chiefs a sacred gift of tobacco and, with it, an invitation to discuss terms of peace. Chief Klatsassin and his men accepted this truce. They rode into the camp to negotiate peace, and then in an unexpected act of betrayal they were arrested, imprisoned and tried for murder. On October 26 five chiefs were hanged: Head War Chief Klatsassin, Chief Biyil, Chief Tilaghed, Chief Taqed and Chief Chayses. Their bodies are all buried in the city of Quesnel. The following summer Chief Ahan sought to pay reparations to compensate for any harm caused to innocents in the events of the Chilcotin War. He was also hanged. He is buried in New Westminster. Today we acknowledge that these chiefs were not criminals and that they were not outlaws. They were warriors, they were leaders, and they were engaged in a territorial dispute to defend their lands and their peoples. Their descendants continue to reside on and care for those territories, and they do it with the same commitment to their lands and their culture that their forebears showed. The Tsilhqot’in continue to assert their right and their responsibility to govern those lands. Despite every success that they have had, the pain of 1864 has never receded. Madame Speaker, I stand here today in this Legislature, 150 years later, to say that the province of British Columbia is profoundly sorry for the wrongful arrest, trial and hanging of the six chiefs and for the many wrongs inflicted by past governments. To the extent that it falls within the power of the province of British Columbia, we confirm without reservation that these six Tsilhqot’in chiefs are fully exonerated of any crime or wrongdoing. The Tsilhqot’in people rightly regard these chiefs as heroes of their people. Today we offer this apology, an historic day 150 years later, in the presence of two of the six chiefs who have fought so hard to ensure that their territories and their people are recognized by the laws of this land. I know that this Legislature - I hope that this Legislature - will join me in supporting this redress that we offer today.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History