POLITICS
03/24/2018 12:12 EDT | Updated 03/24/2018 18:48 EDT

Justin Trudeau To Exonerate First Nations War Chiefs Hanged In 1864

He is expected to absolve the Tsilhqot'in of guilt on Monday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises to vote during a marathon voting session in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to formally exonerate six First Nations war chiefs more than 150 years after they were hanged by British Columbia's colonial government following a deadly confrontation with a crew of white road builders.

On Monday, Trudeau will absolve the Tsilhqot'in of guilt "in any way, shape or form" related to the killing of 14 construction workers in 1864, said Chief Joe Alphonse in a video posted on the Tsilhqot'in National Government's Facebook page.

"The Chilcotin War is what defines us," Alphonse said.

"If you come into Tsilhqot'in territory you had to have Tsilhqot'in permission. And when the Waddington road-building crew came in, they didn't get that permission. And when they took our women, abused our women, we declared war on them."

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in Nation is pictured at Farwell Canyon, B.C., in an Oct. 24, 2014 file photo.

After the workers were killed, five chiefs arrived at what they believed would be peace talks with government representatives, where they were arrested, tried and hanged. A sixth chief was executed the following year in New Westminster.

"They were tricked into being convicted — wrongly convicted — for murder," Peyal Francis Laceese, a youth ambassador with the Tsilhqot'in National Government, said in the video.

"This is where they were hung," he added, walking over snow-covered ground outside Quesnel in B.C.'s Interior.

"One-hundred-fifty-four years ago and I still feel their spirit. I still hear those songs. I still speak their language."

The Canadian Press
Drummers perform a song during a ceremony to commemorate the 150th anniversary of six First Nation chiefs being hung to death in Quesnel, B.C. on Oct. 26, 2014.

The Tsilhqot'in have long disputed the government's authority to execute the six chiefs as criminals, describing the confrontation as an altercation between warring nations.

The B.C. government apologized for the hangings in 1993 and installed a commemorative plaque at the site of the hangings.

Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett is scheduled to hold a press conference alongside the Tsilhqot'in Nation leadership Monday in Ottawa following the official exoneration.

The prime minister's office declined comment.

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