British Columbia

Sacred ceremony takes place at New West Secondary to honour Tsilhqot'in chief

The Tsilhqot'in First Nation hopes to ensure the protection of its history and heritage as plans to rebuild New Westminster Secondary School proceed despite traditional burial grounds located at the site.

New West school board chair says new high school won't be built on Chief Ahan burial grounds

Members of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation sang, prayed and cleansed the ground at New Westminster Secondary School on Monday, July 18, 2016 to honour a former chief who is buried there. (CBC)

Members of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation sang, prayed and cleansed the ground in a New Westminster Secondary School's parking lot on Monday to honour a former chief who was buried there after being hanged during the Chilcotin War exactly 151 years ago.

"The legacy of Chief Ahan is far reaching," said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman of the Tsilhqot'in National Government. "He was one of the six war Chiefs that protected our territory from further disease and unlawful taking of our lands."

Tsilhqot'in Nation sacred ceremony at New West Secondary

CBC News Vancouver at 6

5 years ago
The Tsilhqot'in Nation honoured former Chief Ahan whose burial ground is under a parking lot at New Westminster Secondary School with a special ceremony. 2:21

The memorial site at New Westminster Secondary School has become a further issue after the provincial government announced plans to finally rebuild the deteriorating school on June 7.

At the time, the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs and Canadians for Reconciliation said they opposed to the project because the current school is built on top of a former cemetery where the remains of Chinese pioneers and First Nations leaders were buried.

"[We want to] make sure that we're all working together and trying to have as little impact on the area, the site, as we possibly can," said Alphonse at the school on Monday.

​The chair of the New Westminster school board has said that when the district replaces the existing high school by building a new one, construction will avoid the burial remains site.

Jonina Campbell reiterated that promise on Monday as she participated in the Tsilhqot'in ceremony.

"You know everybody is just excited that we're going to get a new school for the students but recognizing that there is a role for us to play here with this site that will become a cemetery, a designated cemetery," she said. "And we have an opportunity here to memorialise this site in a way that's historically significant."

with files from Brenna Rose.