Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse received his Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the University of Victoria Nov. 10, recognizing his years of fighting for the rights of Indigenous people of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation.
“It’s truly an honour,” said Alphonse, who has been at the forefront of several historic moments for the Tŝilhqot’in Nation. These milestones include the protection of Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) from large scale mining interests, the recognition of Aboriginal title by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014 for the first time in Canadian history, and advocating for Indigenous jurisdiction in emergency and land management during and following the historic 2017 wildfires.
He told Black Press he was particularly honoured that it was UVic that recognized his accomplishments as he sees the university as having an innovative approach to business with Indigenous governments, where you need to “think outside of the box.”
Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Otis Guichon, Vice-Chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG), and the TNG itself congratulated Alphonse on receiving the honour.
“Nits’ilʔin Joe Alphonse has dedicated his life to fighting against the status quo,” said Guichon. “His knowledge of the Nation, the Tŝilhqot’in language, and the people is something to be celebrated. Nits’ilʔin Alphonse has not only a wealth of traditional knowledge of our Indigenous laws, but also an inspiring way of applying these laws to the world today.”
Alphonse noted history is not made in isolation and that he accepts the honorary degree as a collective recognition of the entire Tŝilhqot’in Nation, and in particular the Elders, former leaders, members, and communities that have sacrificed and persevered through much adversity to protect Tŝilhqot’in law, territory and way of life.
Alphonse, who is now 54, was born in Williams Lake and raised in Tl’etinqox (also known as Anaham). He comes from a long line of hereditary chiefs and as a young man he attended Lethbridge Community College for two-and-a-half years before beginning his life’s work within the TNG. He hopes that the work and sacrifice he and others in the nation have made during their earlier years which were “pretty rough,” will make life easier with more opportunities for generations to come.
“It’s an honour to be leader but sometimes you have to go against the grain, and you’re criticized, but I’ve always done what I thought was right for my people. That’s what I’ve always tried to do and I believe I’ve left a footprint, I’ve left a trail.”
Alphonse and his wife Chastity Davis-Alphonse are expecting their first baby together in January. In February, Alphonse will put his name forward seeking an eight term to lead his community of Tl’etinqox.
“I’m always grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to represent my community,” Alphonse said. “And as long as they’re willing to keep me there, I’m willing to do that.”
In 2021 Alphonse was also awarded the prestigious Order of British Columbia for his leadership.