by Esther Darlington MacDonald
In an impressive ceremony that drew over 200 representing native bands, government officials and the Canadian National Railways held in the setting of the Stein Valley at the newly built Nlakapamux School, Chief Robert Pasco was conferred the status of Grand Chief.
The day long ceremony in Lytton on May 24 began with a series of tributes acknowledging Pasco’s tireless contribution to his people’s interests.
Issues on protection of the Thompson and Fraser River watersheds, land claims involving B.C. Hydro, mining, the Stein Valley injunction, as well as the injunction made in respect to the twin tracking of the CN, all of which sought to preserve and protect the environmental interests of the Nlaka’pamux people of Ashcroft and Fraser Canyon were just some of the reasons for the honor conferred on Pasco.
Person after person rose to describe the impact of this homegrown native leader, including Grand Chief of the Penticton Indian Band, Stewart Phillip, who spoke of Pasco’s particular style of negotiations with corporate and government heads as he sought to preserve and protect the land, rivers and the quality of life of his people, to “find another way”.
Described as a “great leader”, who earned the respect of his people “through hard work and integrity,” stressing community solidarity, mentoring the large staff of the Nlaka’pamux Tribal Council, a number of dignitaries wrote or spoke of Pasco’s achievements over the many years and his particular style of governance that brought out the best in his people. “You have walked the walk,” declared one speaker. Another described Pasco as a “True warrior”.
“We are beginning to see the results of years and years of work that benefited us all,” Pasco’s oldest son, Matt said of his father. Matt Pasco is an assistant professor at the University of Regina. He went on to say, “He always put his children in a position to succeed, urging us to ‘surround yourself with the best’,” adding, “Where ever I have gone, my father has left his mark. He always found a way to get the best out of you.”
A wooden replica of a paddle with the inscription, Strength Through Integrity was presented to Pasco by legal counsel Roshan Donesh.
An employee of the tribal council declared: “We have seen Bob go from a front line feisty activist to become a real statesman.”
Not many are aware that Robert Pasco has a degree in chemistry from Eastern Washington University. Or, that he is a past President of the B.C. Cattlemens’ Association and has been a successful rancher and former cowboy, winning awards wrestling cattle at various rodeo events. Pasco has also headed the Ashcroft Ranchers Association.
“He works without personal gain,” declared one speaker, noting Pasco’s “disciplined approach” on a number of issues.
The CN representative said that through Pasco’s skill at negotiations and the filing of an injunction against the railway in the twin tracking of the Thompson proposal, the company has “Just started to understand aboriginal rights and title. And we are still learning to consult.”
He noted Pasco’s philosophy of “There is always a way to do something.” He added that his effort has “stopped all twin tracking” when it affects the aboriginal rivers and land interests. Citing the agreement with the railroad as a “living agreement”, he added, “We are getting better at it.”