British Columbia

Chief calls on Barkerville to include First Nations perspectives on Judge Begbie's history

Joe Alphonse would like to see more First Nations perspectives included in how the history of Begbie and the Chilcotin War are told in B.C., including in places like Barkerville. 

'It's quite an honour to be invited to have this conversation,' says programming lead for Barkerville

The Judge Matthew Begbie statue sits on Carnarvon Street outside the provincial courthouse in New Westminster. (Meera Bains/CBC)

Chief and Tribal Chair of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, Joe Alphonse, welcomes the news that the statue of B.C.'s first chief justice, Matthew Begbie, will be removed from outside a New Westminster courthouse.

However, he would like to see more First Nations perspectives included in how the history of Begbie and the Chilcotin War are told in B.C., including in places like Barkerville

The historic town and park is a Government of Canada national historic site that teaches people about the gold rush era, including Begbie's role in the region's history. 

"I think Barkerville should maybe have a sit-down with First Nations and get from their perspective the history of British Columbia," said Alphonse.

"There's huge things that went on when contact happened and our war chiefs were protecting our nation."

New Westminster council's recent decision to move Begbie's statue was because of his role in overseeing a trial in the 1860s that lead to the hanging of six Tsilhqot'in chiefs.

"If they move [the statue] that's fine, but wherever they move it to, tell the full story," Alphonse told Daybreak North's Wil Fundal.

In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized to the Tsilhqot'in community for the hangings of the chiefs and fully exonerated them.

"I think we need to tell the full and complete history of British Columbia ... and honour the First Nations role in the creation of British Columbia, where we live, and how we look at British Columbia today," said Alphonse.

Barkerville welcomes consultation

James Douglas, public programming and global media development lead for Barkerville, said they are open to consultation with First Nations communities about how the museum tells Begbie's story.

"We're always looking to tell the complete story of British Columbia, or as complete a story as we can," he said. 

"It's quite an honour to be invited to have this conversation to see how we can continue to partner with our First Nations communities and continue to move forward from all of this."

Portrayal of Begbie

The museum has a program that focuses on how early western-style justice developed in B.C., which includes the role Begbie played in it. However, he is one of many judges discussed, said Douglas.

"We definitely do not shy away from some of the more controversial aspects of not only judge Begbie's life, but of the colonial justice system in general."

The hangings and Begbie's trial are also brought up in the town tour, he said.

"We do talk a little bit about the difficulties that must have been faced by these colonial judiciaries as well in particular circumstances, as to try and avoid any further conflict. But we certainly admit flat-out that the decision was controversial and, in retrospect, probably was not the right decision to be made."

Programming changes

Douglas believes they should be able to make changes to how they tell Begbie's story before their summer season begins.

"In fact, this timing is quite perfect. We've been in consultation with a number of our First Nations partners throughout the years," he said.

The museum has hosted an Indigenous celebration every July for the past six years and this past year, they hired two Indigenous liaison officers to help them create a permanent First Nations interpretive program.

"We have time to ... help continue this story and to have this consultation, and then also work it in not only to the existing program that we have, but this brand new Indigenous interpretation program that we have too."

With files from Daybreak North