The federal and provincial governments have joined with the Tŝilhqot’in National Government and the six Tŝilhqot’in communities to celebrate the signing of the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement (“Towards it, We are Striving”), a historic reconciliation agreement to support Tŝilhqot’in self-determination, five years after the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Tŝilhqot’in Nation Decision.
Leaders from the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, along with Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; Jonathan Wilkinson, federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; and Scott Fraser, British Columbia’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation; have signed the new five-year Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement. The six Tŝilhqot’in Nation signatories included Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair (Tl'etinqox); Chief Russell Myers Ross, Vice Chair (Yuneŝit’in); Chief Francis Laceese (Tl'esqox); Chief Roy Stump (ʔEsdilagh); Chief Otis Guichon (Tŝideldel); and Chief Jimmy Lulua (Xeni Gwet'in).
The Tsilhqot’in Nation Decision declared Aboriginal title for the first time in Canada, in the homeland of the Tŝilhqot’in peoples. Since that time, the federal and provincial governments have worked separately with the Tŝilhqot’in Nation to implement the Tŝilhqot’in Nation Decision and to chart a path to lasting reconciliation. The new agreement brings all three parties to the table to continue their work together.
The purpose of the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement is to bring transformative change to the lives of the Tŝilhqot’in peoples and to the relationship between the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, Canada and British Columbia. It is the first tripartite reconciliation agreement of its kind in the province.
A core principle of the agreement is to support the self-determination of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation. This agreement is a tangible expression of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes every Nation has unique and distinct paths to self-determination.
The agreement commits the Nation and the provincial and federal governments to sustained progress on eight Tŝilhqot’in priorities: Tŝilhqot’in governance; language and culture; children and families; healthy communities; justice; education and training; Tŝilhqot’in Nen (lands, water and resources); and economic development.
Recognizing the social and cultural importance of fisheries to the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, the agreement will also support the role of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation in stewardship, monitoring and fisheries management of Tŝilhqot’in fisheries.
The agreement will also support negotiations over the next five years to effect the practical transition to Tŝilhqot’in governance in the declared title area as recognized in the Tŝilhqot’in Nation Decision.
Chief Joe Alphonse, Tl’etinqox Government Tribal Chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government –
“We have spent decades fighting in courts and on the front lines to protect our lands and our way of life. That fight is who we are as Tŝilhqot’in peoples – it is passed down directly from our Tŝilhqot’in war chiefs of 1864-65. But we also want to see a better future for our children, a better life. That is what this Agreement is about: building a better future for our people, based on our priorities and our solutions. We commend the prime minister, Minister Bennett and the Government of Canada for following through on the commitments made to our people when they came to declared title lands to deliver the statement of exoneration for our war chiefs. We are ready to be the authors of our own future as Tŝilhqot’in peoples.”
Scott Fraser, B.C.'s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –
“The landmark Tsilhqot’in Nation Decision builds on what the courts have stated time and again, that Aboriginal Title and Rights exist and must be respected by all levels of government. The Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement builds on the collaborative work between B.C. and TNG since the 2014 decision and moves it forward – with our federal partners now participating – so that we can continue working together to turn the spirit and words of the court decision into tangible action that will benefit the Tsilhqot’in Nation and all residents of the Chilcotin.”
Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations –
“Today, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation takes an historic step forward as they rebuild their nation and advocate for their people. The Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement exemplifies true partnership in a Government-to-Government and Nation-to-Nation relationship grounded in Indigenous leadership, vision and self-determination.”
Jonathan Wilkinson, federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard –
“The 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision was landmark, as is this agreement. Fisheries are a key component of the agreement that will contribute to creating transformative change to the lives of Tŝilhqot’in peoples. This groundbreaking agreement provides a pathway towards lasting reconciliation rooted in partnership, collaboration and self-determination and acknowledges the social and cultural significance of fisheries to the Tŝilhqot’in Nation.”
Chief Russell Myers Ross, Yuneŝit’in Government Vice Chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government –
"Since the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2014 that affirmed that Aboriginal Title exists, our Nation has sought to reconcile the contestation of jurisdiction that is embedded in the history of small pox and the 1864 hangings. With the exoneration of our past leaders by the provincial and federal government, and with political support, it is time to put our energy into building our self-determining Nation. The Gwets'en Nilt'i Pathway Agreement allows our leadership to discuss the ways in which we want to better ourselves by working together - to understand how to unravel a deeply horrific colonial past and make the best attempts to create a relationship, capacity within, and governing authority that is based on our values and laws."
Chief Jimmy Lulua, Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government –
“Five years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Aboriginal title for the first time in the history of Canada, in our Tŝilhqot’in homeland. It was a historic moment for our Nation and for Canada. This Agreement continues the work that our Tsilhqot’in war chiefs began when they met, under a flag of truce, for peace talks. Today, we honour those who sacrificed their lives for our Nation by showing the world, that after 25 years of conflict in the courts, our declared title lands can be a showcase of Indigenous-led governance, in partnership with B.C. and Canada.”
Chief Francis Laceese, Tl’esqox First Nation –
“This Agreement is grounded in recognition and respect for our Aboriginal rights and title, including our rights of self-determination and self-governance under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As Tŝilhqot’in, we cannot and will not rest until our rights, our title and our jurisdiction are recognized throughout our homeland. This Agreement sets the table for that work and sets a pathway together to bring these commitments to life in a way that reflects our aspirations as Tŝilhqot’in peoples.”
Chief Otis Guichon Sr., Tŝideldel First Nation –
“As a Nation, we have had to make sacrifices to fight for our rights and title in the Canadian courts, and to oppose projects like New Prosperity that threaten our culture and sacred places. Our priority is the health and well-being of our Tŝilhqot’in citizens, families and communities. This Agreement sets out a shared vision with B.C. and Canada for transforming the lives of our people. That is where we need to invest our time and our energy and I look forward to the work ahead.”
Chief Roy Stump, ʔEsdilagh First Nation –
“This Agreement is an historic achievement. As Chiefs and leaders, we always put our communities and our people first. It is important to us that this Agreement is based on the ‘8 Pillars’ of change identified by our communities as a call to action. This is truly a ‘Made-in-Tŝilhqot’in’ agreement, by our people, for our people. I am excited by this opportunity to deliver long overdue change for our communities, with the support and partnership of B.C. and Canada.”
- On June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the Tŝilhqot’in have Aboriginal title to over approximately 1,750 square kilometres in the interior of British Columbia.
- The Tŝilhqot’in Nation and British Columbia entered into the Nenqay Deni Accord on Feb. 11, 2016.
- The Tŝilhqot’in Nation and Canada signed the Letter of Understanding (LOU) on Jan. 27, 2017, as the first step in achieving lasting and comprehensive reconciliation for the Tŝilhqot’in people.
- On Nov. 2, 2018, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation and Canada signed the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Letter to affirm the shared vision in the 2017 LOU and to set out next steps on the path to reconciliation.
- Since November 2018, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, B.C. and Canada have negotiated the tripartite Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement, enabling a new partnership approach.