First Nations from B.C’s Coast and Central Interior came together for the first time in more than a century to witness the marriage of longtime Tsilhqot’in Chief Joe Alphonse and First Nations communications consultant Chastity Davis.
Under sunny skies with the colours of fall in full bloom, Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair, and Davis wed on the traditional and sacred lands of Tl’etinqox (Anaham) on Thursday, Oct. 1.
The couple said they could not have asked for a better day for the outdoor celebration at Anah Lake north of Alexis Creek that saw members of the Homalco, Kwakiutl and Tla’amin First Nations attend alongside members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
Davis is a member of the Tla’amin First Nation located north of Powell River, and her grandparents are from the Church House area that was once home to many Homalco people. Both are also of European ancestry.
“We’re all inter-related so they came and did some really beautiful cultural sharing,” Davis said, noting there is a long history of Homalco and Chilcotin peoples tying the knot.
“They had us up doing a traditional bride and groom dance in full regalia, and also did a blanketing ceremony during the wedding,” she added.
Amid COVID-19 precautions temperatures were taken of each guest upon arrival. Access to hand sanitizer and face masks was also made readily available.
For Alphonse the wedding could not be put off despite the pandemic and his own health scare.
“I still wanted a reason to celebrate because I’d be there and the woman I love would be there, so that’s all that really mattered,” he said.
Five days after proposing to Davis earlier this year at the top of Potato Mountain near Tatlayoko Lake, Alphonse underwent emergency open-heart surgery following a heart attack.
“I jokingly tell people because she started planning the wedding that as a politician we never ask questions if we don’t know what the answer is going to be,” he said.
Once members got word their Chief was engaged, Tl’etinqox elders told Alphonse that his wedding could not be a private individual event but one that involved the community. Many of the elders helped plan it.
“Otherwise we might have preferred to go to Vegas and marry there,” Alphonse said with a laugh, adding the wedding was an opportunity to showcase his community which has some of the most caring individuals one will ever find.
“We’re rich in culture and we’re open to sharing that, and that’s what our wedding was,” he said.
With the wedding ceremony performed in partnership by Tl’etinqox spiritual leader Cecil Grinder and Chastity’s father, Charles Davis who is an ordained minister, an ancient song from the Kwakiutl First Nation near Port Hardy was gifted back to the Tsilhqot’in.
Prior to contact the Tsilhqot’in would travel to Kwakiutl for intermarriages and to trade goods such as oolichan oil.
The Kwakiutl sang the song in memory of the Tsilhqot’in who perished one dreadful winter trying to return back to the Chilcotin, and still sing it to this day as an honour song.
“One of the Kwakiutl chiefs brought it back to Tsilhqot’in territory and gifted it back to them at our wedding,” Chastity said.
“They also gifted two ancestral and traditional names to me and Joe from their nation which is a huge honour for us to carry.”
The last time a Tsilhqot’in chief married a Homalco woman was centuries ago when head war Chief Lhats’asʔin (Klatsassin) married a Homalco woman whom he had a son with. He and his son were wrongfully executed during the Chilcotin War in 1864.
Over the years Alphonse and Davis have both worked tirelessly on the recognition and rights of First Nations people, and incorporating their Indigenous culture, traditions and values into their everyday lives.
Alphonse remains the longest elected chief of Tl’etinqox and has also been the tribal chair of the TNG since 2010. Among his many achievements, Alphonse played an instrumental role in getting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to attend their title lands in 2018 to personally exonerate the Nation’s six war chiefs who were hanged. In 2017, as wildfires raged in the Chilcotin, Alphonse and his community also stayed behind to fight the fires despite evacuation orders.
Equally accomplished, Davis co-founded the Professional Aboriginal Women’s Network and is the sole proprietor of her own consulting business, Chastity Davis Consulting. She works with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to help bridge the gap, and recently lead Indigenous cultural and historical training with Alphonse with staff of RBC Royal Bank in Williams Lake.
The couple met at a Nation2Nation conference in March 2017 where they were both keynote speakers.
Following the conference they became friends on Facebook where they would periodically exchange messages.
“She facebook stalked me,” Alphonse said chuckling.
It was not until 2018 their friendship would truly blossom when Davis helped lead Indigenous training awareness at the Alexis Creek RCMP detachment following the 2017 wildfires that saw a healing circle take place between the community and members of the RCMP.
Once the successful project was completed their fondness for each other grew following a date that saw Alphonse fly to Vancouver where he took Davis to dinner and gifted her a pair of handmade embroidered deer hide gloves by Tsilhqot’in Elder Madeline William.
The marriage is a first for both, and Alphonse and Davis said they plan to divide their time at Davis’s home in Vancouver and Alphonse’s two residences at 150 Mile House and Tl’etinqox.
They plan to take their honeymoon next year on an Alaskan cruise and trek around the U.S. state.