LETTER: Response to: No need to be welcomed as guests

A letter to the editor by Kukpi7 Helen Henderson

To the editor:

Le7 te Sitq’t (Good Day). Helen Henderson Ren Sqewkst (Helen Henderson is my name). I am the Kukpi7 (Chief) of Tsq’escen (Canim Lake Band).

I’m writing to respond to the letter to the editor, No need to be welcomed as guests (Free Press, June 14), by Dan Westwood.

At the graduation ceremony at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School (PSO) earlier this month, I was very honoured to speak to the Class of 2018. As is our custom, I offered a welcome to those gathered here on Secwepemculew, the traditional territory of the Secwepemc people.

We have been here for thousands of years and have endured many hardships and trauma. Through it all, we have remained true to ourselves as Secwepemc. We are about relationship building. We have had that relationship with surrounding communities since contact and I take pride in that. Yes, this is a territory where we now all live together and I am grateful.

In my message to the Class of 2018, I wanted to connect grads to our history, our language, our ancestral lands and the legends that have been passed down from generation to generation. I shared one such legend that I hope might inspire these graduates and give them guidance in the journey ahead. It was not my intention to politicize this event. Indeed, I don’t believe I did. It is unfortunate that the letter published by the Free Press does just that, because it is not the welcome that Mr. Westwood takes issue with in reality, but the very idea that these are Secwepemculew at all.

I have had many aunts, uncles, cousins graduate from PSO. I am a graduate of the Class of 1990. Of my nine children, seven have graduated from PSO. Education is a priority in our house. It is a priority in our community as is our relationship with the PSO and School District.

We are in a day and age of reconciliation. We know what this means for us as Secwepemc. There are efforts across the country on this and a lot of progress has been made. This is seen throughout our territory and through the letters shared by readers of the article. It is not lost on me as Tsq’escenemc that we are still living on reserves owned by the federal government. I would ask that you take a moment and think about what this means. To us, it is being forced to live in one closet of what once was our home. There was a time in our not-so-distant past that we were restricted to those reserves. All these years later, we still live on “the Rez.”

We strive to break free from this by negotiating a modern-day treaty. We have been at that table for 25 years.

It is not our intention to do the very thing that was done to us, which is to displace private landowners from their homesteads. Rather, we want to have clarity and some legal ownership over our territory.

The history of our people since contact is not easy to talk about. To that end, I must thank Dan Westwood and the Free Press for sparking a conversation on an important issue.

This dialogue must happen.

I encourage everyone to read The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. In particular, Article #86 reads:

“We call upon Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal– Crown relations.”

In the spirit of Reconciliation, I cordially invite you to my and council’s ‘swearing in’ ceremony this Thursday, June 28, as a step toward Reconciliation. The ceremony will commence at 11 am with a BBQ to follow at our gymnasium.

I extend a special invitation to the Graduating Class of 2018 to come out and join us in our celebrations as our special guests.

Le7 en Pusmen (My heart is glad).

Kukpi7 Helen Henderson


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