Politics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expected to exonerate Tsilhqot'in chiefs hanged in 1864

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to exonerate six B.C. First Nations chiefs accused of murdering white colonists more than 150 years ago in pre-Confederation British Columbia.

Chiefs were convicted of massacring 14 members of a white road-building party

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a Liberal Party fundraiser, in Toronto on March 7. He is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday about the deaths of six Tsilhqot'in chiefs in 1864. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected on Monday to exonerate six B.C. First Nations chiefs convicted of murdering white colonists more than 150 years ago in pre-Confederation British Columbia.

"We'll be in Ottawa on Monday, March 26, with the prime minister to have a statement acknowledging the wrong that was done to us many years ago," the Tsilhqot'in National Government, the tribal council, said in a video posted on their Facebook page.

A press release sent from the office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Trudeau would make a statement in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister's Office wouldn't provide further details on Friday.

In 1864, five Tsilhqot'in chiefs were called to what they thought were peace talks to end the Chilcotin War

Instead, they were accused of massacring 14 members of a road-building party and were then tried, convicted and hanged.

A plaque recognizing five wrongfully hanged Tsilhqot'in Chiefs is pictured near the Fraser River in Quesnel, B.C. The provincial government exonerated the chiefs in 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

'No form of guilt'

Five of the chiefs were executed, under Crown authority, near the settlement of Quesnel, B.C., in the province's interior. A sixth chief was later hanged near New Westminster, B.C., after trying to offer reparations.

The chiefs opposed the construction of roads to gold-rich lands, and sought to stop the incursion into their traditional territory.

There are also allegations that the road-building crew took some Tsilhqot'in women hostage.

The prime minister is expected to "let everything go, meaning there's no form of guilt on behalf of the Tsilhqot'in in any way, shape or form," said Chief Joe Alphonse.

"The first order of business is to exonerate our war chiefs and then we'll get to work to bring back our lands as they were before contact [by European settlers]. It's time for Canada to step up to the plate," he said.

The Tsilhqot'in have long objected to the chiefs being tried as criminals, saying the killing of the colonists was carried out during a war between the First Nations and the colonial authority in B.C.

In 2014, B.C. Premier Christy Clark also fully exonerated the chiefs of any wrongdoing.

The B.C. exoneration came after a landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled the Tsilhqot'in peoples had aboriginal title to a large swath of their traditional territory — over 1,700 square kilometres — not just old village sites as the provincial and federal governments had argued.

It was the first time in Canada aboriginal title had been confirmed, outside of an Indian reserve.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC's Duncan McCue

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