EDITORIAL: An overdue apology

The 1864 episode is ugly; an open house in Qualicum provides hope

On Thursday, as reported by Black Press, the B.C. government made a formal apology to the Tsilhqot’in Nation for the arrest and hanging of six of its war chiefs at Quesnel in 1864.

The Nation’s historical position that it was defending its sovereign territory was upheld in June by a Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing aboriginal title. In the summer of 1864, Tsilhqot’in members killed 14 construction workers employed by colonial official Alfred Waddington to build a road from Bute Inlet to provide faster access to the gold fields of the Cariboo region. Tsilhqot’in warriors traditionally fought to protect their land, women and children.

Five chiefs were imprisoned, tried and executed in October 1864 after accepting an invitation to discuss terms of peace to end the Chilcotin War. A sixth chief was hanged the following year.

To say this is a disturbing chapter in the story of this land we now call British Columbia is a gross understatement.

We are also disturbed by how long it took our government to apologize for this atrocity. Why did we have to wait for a Supreme Court of Canada decision 150 years after the fact?

The cynical, and probably accurate answer to that is this: lawyers and insurance companies rule our world. No matter how wrong the action, a government seems to think it needs to protect against saying the right thing until legal process has run its course. It’s another example of poor leadership at the political level because there was nothing any court could say in the last 150 years that would change the inexcusable actions of colonial officials in 1864.

From this grim history we move closer to home and hopefully closer to a better relationship with First Nations, thanks to the Qualicum First Nation (QFN).

A relatively small Nation, the Qualicum don’t seek headlines. We have had very few stories about the QFN in these pages over the years, perhaps leading to a bit of mystery about who they are and what they do.

The QFN has reached out to change that: chief, council and members are hosting an open house on Wednesday from 2-6 p.m. at the QFN band hall (5850 River Road in Qualicum Bay). We salute Chief Michael Recalma, council and all of the QFN membership for this gracious invitation to our communities.

— Editorial by John Harding

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