Shortly after being elected Mayor, I was on stage with a number of dignitaries who appropriately recognized the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene and Southern Carrier people prior to speaking to the audience. As I stepped up to the microphone to give my first speech as Mayor, I realized I could not follow suit and “recognize” the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene because the City of Quesnel, at that time, had taken no steps to actually, in practice, recognize the Lhtako Dene’s territorial rights in any way, despite the clear and undisputed fact that the City of Quesnel is built on the traditional and unceded territory of the Lhtako.
From that moment on, with the full support of Quesnel City Council, we have taken steps to not simply recognize the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene (all City buildings now have territorial recognition signs and the Lhtako Dene flag flies at the Visitor Center) we have been actively engaged with Lhtako Council, Elders and community members on a number of reconciliation initiatives and business partnerships. Those initiatives have now been expanded to include the Chiefs and Councils of the Nazko, ?Esdilagh, and Lhoosk’uz First Nations – all of which have a historical and traditional relationship with the land surrounding the confluence of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers and Baker Creek.
Our fledgling community forest is one of the key business partnerships the City and these four First Nations have underway. The work we’ve been doing together on this initiative has deepened the relationships between the elected leaders and technical staff of all five communities.
For the past 18 months, bi-monthly meetings between the elected Chiefs and the Mayor have enabled us to dig into critical issues that impact all of our communities: mental health and addictions, housing, education, economic development, and reconciliation initiatives, to name a few. These meetings are starting to bear fruit, as our common interests will enable us to pursue collaborative initiatives to address the challenges we’re all confronted with.
Of course, the City of Quesnel itself is clearly situated on the traditional territory of the Lhtako Dene. This nation had a settlement at the confluence of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers and Baker Creek for millennia prior to contact with European explorers. In fact, the Lhatko are reputed to have had one of the largest settled populations in the Province next to Haida Gwaii, prior to being wiped out by the diseases brought by early settlers. It is not an overstatement to say that the City of Quesnel is built on the bones of the Lhatko Dene, as there are known mass graves throughout the City as well as multiple individual graves and sacred sites.
Yet, any visitor or resident walking along our Riverfront Trail would be forgiven for thinking that the only history that mattered along the City’s riverfronts is that of “discovery” and “settlement” by European “pioneers.” The announcement this week of the creation of a new cultural precinct at Lhtako Dene Park (formerly Ceal Tingley Park) is intended to change that and give residents and visitors alike a sense of the long history and deep cultural association that the Lhtako Dene have with the confluence of the rivers at the heart of the City.
This cultural interpretation project has been years in the making and is a result of significant and ongoing dialogue with the Lhtako Chief, Council, Elders, and community. Lhatko Dene Park represents a first step toward achieving true reconciliation with and recognition of the First Nations who called “Quesnel” home long before European settlement.
Mayor Bob Simpson