Our people have always lived on this land, since time immemorial. These are words I have grown up hearing from every single elder I have had the opportunity to learn from.
Our people lived freely on our lands. We hunted on our mountains and fished in our creeks and lakes. We harvested cedar from our forests and gathered as much food as we needed from the ocean.
These were the great times of my people, a time when the only language we knew was our native tongue. Our people gathered during the seasons; we had village sites for different purposes throughout the year. We danced and sang the ancient chants of our people.
But it all changed one day. Immigrants began coming to our lands, looking to settle and looking to take charge. The “Indians” were given blankets containing illnesses we were never immune to and our people were fed alcohol when there was no tolerance for it. Our people began to die, and not just a few died, thousands of our people died.
We have stories and evidence of all the villages our people had: Grief Point, Willingdon Beach, Emmonds Beach, Grace Harbour, on Myrtle Rocks, wherever there was good, clear land and a fresh water source, our people lived. From Lang Bay to Bute Inlet and all the islands in between, our people settled.
The sad times of my people were the times that came after. The last, say, 150 years of our history.
We were put under the control of the superintendent of Indian affairs; a man named Israel W. Powell, the namesake of this town we live in. I sit here and think of how incredibly disrespectful it was to name Tiys’kwat after a man who worked to kill the true culture of this land. The goal was to “kill the Indian inside the child.” Sadly, it almost worked.
It almost worked because our people were forced into institutions such as residential schools, where practising language and culture was strictly forbidden. Languages were literally beaten out of children. When the parents of these children refused to let their children go, they were arrested and sent to prison.
Our people were also put into designated Indian reserves and not allowed to leave without permission from an Indian agent. Our lands were taken illegally and distributed among the settlers. The river and heart of our people was dammed, killing off one of the largest salmon runs in our territory.
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our people celebrating Canada’s so-called 150th birthday and are the reasons why we cannot celebrate it. Our people were never included during those years, so why should we all of a sudden drop the horrible history of our people and act as if nothing happened?
It took my people 149 years to escape. We have protected our rights for our future generations and are once again a self-governing, sovereign nation. Tla’amin Nation people have always been here, since time immemorial, and we will be here until the end of time.
Drew Blaney is the English name of Kespahl from Tishosem, the main village of the Tla’amin people. His grandfather was born in Bute Inlet and his grandparents occupied Theodosia Inlet.