Secwepemc Chief celebrates his people's tenacity on eve of Canada 150

By Adam Donnelly
June 30, 2017 - 6:15pm Updated: July 1, 2017 - 10:31am

KAMLOOPS — 150 years ago Canada became a nation, but for millennia before colonial settlers arrived from Europe, the indigenous people called the vast continent of North America home. Here in the interior of British Columbia, there’s evidence the Secwepemc people have lived for close to 10,000 years. Adam Donnelly caught up with Skeetchestn Indian Band Chief Ron Ignace today up at Pipsell - the Secwepemc name for Jacko Lake - to talk about what Canada’s sesquicentennial means to the indigenous people of the region.

On Saturday, Canadians across the country and around the world will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Compared to how long the original human inhabitants of this land have been here, 150 years seems like no time at all.

“To talk about 10,000 years of Shuswap history on the land, compounded by 150 years of colonial oppression and dispossession is a challenge,” Skeetchestn Kukpi Ron Ignace explained.

The Secwepemc people never surrendered or ceded title to their land; in fact, in 1910 they tried working with the government of the day to share the resources of the area.

“Our Chiefs in 1910 met here in Kamloops with Sir Wilfred Laurier,” Ignace says. “They made an offer to Canada saying… ‘We're prepared to offer up to you, Canada, 50% of our homeland. Half of our land, water and timber… Unfortunately, that offer was turned down.”

Tonight, the Kamloops Museum is opening their newest exhibition, which includes a history of the Secwepemc people in this area.

“It’s the first of an initiative name ‘riverpeoplenationstatepeople’,” Museum Curator Matt Macintosh explained. “We’re asking different cultural groups in the community to speak on their own behalf.”

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park and the KMA. Macintosh says opening the exhibit on the eve of Canada 150 wasn’t a coincidence.

“I think we can use this moment to mark the potential for 150 years of improved relations, and respecting the indigenous voice much more than we previously have,” Macintosh says.

For Kukpi Ron Ignace, Saturday’s festivities won’t be about remembering Canada’s colonial heritage. He’ll be celebrating for a different reason.

“What we have to celebrate is our tenacity and our ability to survive and thrive,” Ignace says. “In 1900, they declared us extinct here. But here I am.”

He’s hoping that tenacity means a better future for the Secwepemc people in the next 150 years.

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