Recognition, reconciliation, and partnerships
Next week’s regular Council meeting will be preceded by a long overdue ceremonial and celebratory special open session during which Council will formally recognize that the City of Quesnel is on the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene (Red Bluff Band) and we will enter into a formal protocol agreement with the Chief and Council of the Lhtako Dene Nation.
This process started in 2015, after I had attended my first public session as Mayor and realized that I could not state, even pro forma, that I recognized we were meeting on the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene and the Southern Carrier people. The simple reason for my reluctance to make this statement as Mayor was that, at that point, the City of Quesnel did not recognize the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene in any civic property, green space, or in any formal agreements with the Lhtako Nation. So, it would have been hypocritical for me to verbally claim, on behalf of the City and Council, that we recognized Lhtako territory, when in fact we did not.
In order to redress this issue, Council passed a resolution during its 2015 strategic planning session to begin the work of recognition and reconciliation with all four Southern Carrier nations, starting with the Lhtako Dene, who originally settled the area we now call the City of Quesnel. In fact, the Lhtako Dene once had a population of 15,000 in the area surrounding the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers and Baker Creek (Lhtako means “where the three rivers meet” and Dene means “people”), the second highest concentration of aboriginal people in the province of BC next to Haida Gwaii.
The advent of settlers to this area brought western diseases and the Lhtako, like so many aboriginal communities and populations, were devastated. It is not a stretch to state that the City of Quesnel is built on the bones of the Lhtako Dene, as there are known graves, including mass graves, scattered throughout the downtown core and along the banks of both the Quesnel and Fraser rivers.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with the elected leaders, elders, and community members of the Lhtaho Dene. I’ve listened to their stories and we’ve enjoyed meals together, beginning the process of establishing a relationship that will help the City and the Lhtako Dene forge new partnerships and productive working relationships. During those meetings we worked with the elders and leaders to develop recognition symbols and language that will be displayed in the City’s buildings, the Lhtako Dene developed a new flag that will be flown on the set of flagpoles beside the Visitor Center, and we jointly drafted a protocol agreement in which the City formally recognizes the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene and which lays out a framework for government to government partnerships and communications.
The signing of a protocol agreement and the placement of recognition greetings and symbols in civic properties is only the beginning. It is Council’s intent to deepen our relationship with the Lhtako Dene and eventually build a new cultural center at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers. Initial dialogue has also begun with the other Southern Carrier bands in an effort to achieve similar formal relationships with these nations too.
This week the topic of recognition and reconciliation is also on the agenda of our joint Regional District (Northern Directors), School Board, and Council meeting (we’ve started to meet together regularly). It’s Council’s desire to see our local first nations heritage celebrated and recognized throughout the City and integrated into our school curriculum.
Council recognizes that we are merely taking the first steps on the road to true reconciliation, but the journey has begun.
Mayor Bob Simpson