My Name is Theresa Tait Day, Hereditary W’ihaliy’te
I am the fourth generation in my matrilineal line(family) to hold this name.
Our Hereditary names are passed down through the great grandmothers. The meaning of my name (is in translation, via the Gitksan language) is as follows: Wi’ means” Big”. For all hereditary chiefs whose names start with Wi it signifies that it is an old name. Hal means Healing; l’yte means spiritual or far seer, dreamer, messenger from the creator, or light. A hereditary chief holds their name until they die. Only then it is past on in a feast. (Striping of names is not done, as we are valued and cannot afford losses a member and their name. (Stripping a new phenomenon to silence women)
A Hereditary chief is known through their Kun’ga’ah or their family line. The oral history of the name is passed through the family, by action, song or purpose. Showing “respect” for the name, regalia and blanket is of utmost importance.
You would not see these protests in our community if our people were able to use the resources from their lands in accordance with the court decisions. Our people want to benefit from the lands in an honest, respectful and meaningful way. People have to create ways to make money, which in turn will allow us to have a good life, living together with the spirit of our lands. People now have reverted to protesting to make money to be heard.
We understand the motivations of the protestors, even if we do not agree with them. The protest actions in Wet’suwet’en territory are very much tied to poverty. People need to belong and will revert to anarchy if they are unhappy or displaced from their lands. People need direction. They need to be respected. And they need to be heard.
Wet’suwet’en people need leadership and system of decision-making that is democratic, transparent and fair. We do not have this in our nation. This has cost us dearly.
The WMC (Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition) has been asked by the hereditary chiefs and the community at large to facilitate a process of reconciliation. We want to be involved. Our voice has not been heard. Instead we are pushed aside by some of the hereditary chiefs. We are experiencing historical internalized colonial oppression. It has played out against us. As with the Indian Agent mentality, we face patriarchal oppressors who exercise male domination.
This is not our way. Hereditary chiefs are only the messengers. They were put in their positions by women. The male hereditary chiefs represent a tiny percentage of the total Wet’suwet’en population. In fact, they do not have the consent of the people to protest. The Wet’suwet’en rule is that the Hereditary Chiefs must listen to the people, including the Band Chiefs, who represent our families, and members wherever they reside.
We have lost confidence in the OW. Our culture is not for public display, our blankets are only used in the feast to honour and bury our people. These blankets are to be left at home when Hereditary Chiefs are talking in public. Feast Hall is a place of respect, not a place for debate.
We know that, as Indian people, we live in poverty. We know our people suffer from historical oppression. Our communities cope with mental illness and suicide Many are incarcerated because THERE SEEMS TO BE NO HOPE. What we are seeing is the result of our shared history of oppression. The lack of love and respect experienced by our people is now manifesting in the anarchy of the few.
We are poor people with the richest resources in this country, we are poor, Meanwhile, others have been getting rich off of our lands and resources. I know, with great sorrow, that poverty kills hope). In my son Luke’s memorial, we said that “remember our loved one my son suicide be a catalyst for peace and love” “We will remember our ancestors, with our Nation and friends. We will fundraise for the tree of love and peace and we will provide gospel and indigenous music in order to bring peace to our communities.”
All of our ancestors who have fought the “fight” have a share of our natural resources. We want to share our wealth with newcomers. As indigenous people, we are still asking for a share and a place at the economic table.
That’s what our court case was about. That’s why two of our hereditary chiefs, Albert Tait Delgamuuku, and Alfred Joseph Gistayway, went to court decades ago to assert our Indigenous right to our traditional territories.
This is the way and role of hereditary Chiefs. They are to ensure that all members of our nation, wherever they may reside, are safe, with the resources and jobs to feed their families and proper housing. We seek to live in prosperity not poverty. As a hereditary chief myself, that’s what I say we all want.
Indigenous people want to hand up not a handout; government programs and government money are a big part of our problems. All we’ve had from the court decision is a impact benefit agreements which is another form feeding us “Indian” from the preverbal government handouts that is tantamount to a glorified welfare system. Under this system, we continue to be stuck managing poverty.
Having an equity stake in major projects is the only way our people will thrive, be self-determining, be respected and cared for, and be able to live in prosperity off of our land, which is our bank. As hereditary chiefs we all want this. Let’s start working together to make this happen.
I call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to provide us with the tools we need to manage our own lives. We know the great creator will heal and care for the lands; our job is to care for our people.
I am asking the government to be proactive. Listen to the people we represent. We want to help our nation to create a democratic decision-making mechanism where we are all informed and where we all have a say, on a major project. Yes or no. Simple.
To both Federal and provincial governments, I ask you to go further then you have. Please provide loan guarantees for Indigenous peoples that allow us to invest in major projects to indigenous people to create our own economy on our lands. All our ancestors’ want is a share of the resources. Provide us the funds so that our people can find their own way forward. Quite talking to same people and expecting a different result.
Right now, a small number of Wet’suwet’en men, including hereditary chiefs who are not following the practises and traditions of our people, are standing between us and our first opportunity to share in Canada’s prosperity. The LNG project is one of them.
We want – and deserve — a place at the table. We are saddened that it is some of our own people, supported by many people who do not share our circumstances or understand our priorities. We are determined to go forward with a plan that has been discussed extensively in our communities, that has the endorsement of the Wet’suwet’en member Nations governance the Band and our members and that has overwhelming support among the Wet’suwet’en people. 95% want LNG.
The last thing we need is to have non-Wet’suwet’en people, most of whom do not know us and who do understand the complexities of the hereditary chief system in Wet’suwet’en telling us what to do. We can and must make decisions for ourselves. Please, protestors, stop talking for us and stop misrepresenting our traditional as if you know them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
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