A totem pole gift from members of a First Nation in B.C.’s central interior is being refused by the Williams Lake Indian Band because it’s being perceived as a claim to territory.
That’s according to Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tl’etinqox, a community that’s part of the Tsilhqot’in Nation. Alphonse said the totem pole was meant to strengthen the relationship between his community and the City of Williams Lake.
“Gifting this totem pole was never meant to be about boundary issues, nor be a statement along territorial lines,” Alphonse said, adding he was disappointed. “If you go to Vancouver or any major city, there is First Nations art everywhere. In the Interior, it is almost non-existent.”
Alphonse said Tl’etinqox has had a long-standing gang issue and people always ask what his community is doing about it.
“We’ve taken a different approach than most. We want to focus on kids who are doing well and support them. If the totem pole is there in Williams Lake, kids can look up and be inspired that our culture is on display.”
Alphonse said he feels like he has failed, despite going to meetings with the Williams Lake Indian Band and the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council.
“The message to us was very clear that they don’t support the project and stressed it was Tl’etinqox staking their territory, but I told them we don’t deal with boundary issues from individual communities. We deal with those issues at the nation level.”
After being re-elected last week, Alphonse met with the band councillors at Tl’etinqox and they decided to come up with another use for the pole.
Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars, meanwhile, said his group will engage with its council and prepare a response to the Tsilhqot’in National Government.