Chief Roger William

Premier Christy Clark apologizes for 1864 Tsilhqot’in hangings

Chiefs descended from those who fought to keep gold seekers out hear Christy Clark exonerate them for any crime

VICTORIA – The B.C. government has made a formal apology in the legislature to the Tsilhqot’in Nation for the arrest and hanging of six of its war chiefs at Quesnel in 1864.

Tsilhqot’in tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse and vice-chair Chief Roger William visited the legislature Thursday to hear Premier Christy Clark make a formal statement on the historic events often referred to as the Chilcotin War or the Bute Inlet massacre.

The Tsilhqot’in 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 based on continuous occupation and control of the Nemiah Valley near Williams Lake.

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.

Alphonse said later that Tsilhqot’in warriors traditionally fought to protect their land, women and children.

“One of the things you don’t hear about very often, the final straw that led to that conflict was the abuse of our women by the roadbuilding crew,” he said.

After the violence, Tsilhqot’in chiefs were invited to Quesnel for what they believed were peace talks, but were arrested and eventually hanged.

Clark described in the legislature an offer by colonial gold commissioner William Cox to send the Tsilhqot’in chiefs a gift of tobacco and an invitation to discuss terms of peace, after settlers had been either killed or driven out of Tsilhqot’in territory.

“Chief Klatsassin and his men accepted this truce,” Clark said. “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 Oct. 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 was buried in New Westminister.

“So, 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,” Clark said.

Alphonse said the next step should be an admission by the federal government that the hanged chiefs did not commit any crime.