“I carried the flag home today, with honour,” says Jara Jules, daughter of Joe Jules.
While Joe was drumming just behind her, and as the sun beat down on the 70 in attendance, Jara fought back tears as she carried the Simpcw First Nation flag toward Tête Jaune, and explained what an emotional experience it was to finally be home.
“This is where we belong,” she says.
Saturday, Aug. 13, marked the symbolic return of the Simpcw people to Tête Jaune Cache, 100 years after their forced removal from the area to the current reserve, Chu Chua.
It’s estimated that between 60 and 70 Simpcw people were forced from Tête Jaune, with some renditions of the story saying the trek took long enough for a full change in season, with the Simpcw leaving Tête Jaune in the fall and arriving in Chu Chua in winter.
Chu Chua is roughly 243 kilometers southwest of Tête Jaune, as the crow flies.
Joe’s father, Jara’s grandfather, was one the Simpcw people forced to relocate.
“Anything they had left in the reserves — food — had to be left behind. It was just whatever they could carry,” says Joe.
“They could not turn back, or they would be beaten.”
The idea for the commemoration came about in February, according to Ian Cameron, who planned it.
People gathered on Blackman Road, and walked from about 200 meters away from the Tête Jaune Community Hall, finally coming to a halt outside the community hall’s fence.
Simpcw Chief Nathan Matthew first welcomed all the relatives of those who were displaced in 1916. Then the chief welcomed the rest of the crowd onto the grounds.
Chief Matthew, local politicians, members of Simpcw First Nation and members of the public all had opportunities to address the crowd and the topic of the Simpcw removal.
Although the Simpcw were removed from the area, Chief Matthew says he hasn’t given up on a formal return to Tête Jaune Cache for his people. The band has put in a request to have its people come back, and live there again.
“Our people have lived here longer than we can remember,” says Chief Matthew.
“We have a right to live here. We want to live here. It’s supported in the constitution of this country,” he says.
The Goat could not find out the specific terms of the Simpcw First Nation’s request to government regarding having the band’s people move back to Tête Jaune.
The Goat will further investigate the terms of the request.
The Federal Government was successful in forcing the relocation of the Simpcw people, and some white settler families who still lived in the region said they didn’t know why First Nation neighbours — who were also their family friends — disappeared in 1916, according to Celia Nord, archives coordinator for the Simpcw First Nation.
As it stands now, the Federal Government denies the Simpcw people ever lived in Tête Jaune year-round, according to Chief Matthew, and the only versions of the Simpcw’s story are verbal, and unofficial.
“My father would tell me the stories while we hunted in the mountains,” says Joe Jules.
“All my older relatives are gone, and I’m the elder in the family. I teach them these stories, the stories that were taught to me, about our people,” he says.
Many who attended have ancestors that were forced to relocate.
Rosemary Donald says she’s spent the last 10 years trying to piece together her mother’s family history, and just last year found out her grandmother lived in Tête Jaune.
“Men, women and children were forced to walk all that distance,” she says. “Even though there was a train going through the area… they made them walk all that way.”
While the story of the Simpcw people is just starting to come to public light, Chief Matthew says there is less uncertainty about the Simpcw culture than ever before.
“If we can live our lives out of the dark — symbolized by the sun shining today — what better way to live this life and pass it on to our kids,” says Chief Matthew.
“Our spirits have not gone anywhere.”
And while nothing will ever correct the forced removal of an entire population from the region, Joe Jules agrees with Chief Matthew in that, the future is what’s most important.
“I’m really happy to be here with my grandchildren, and I’m hoping some day they will remember this historic moment,” says Joe.
“I hope one day we can look around and call these mountains home again.”