Khelsilem Tl’aḵwasiḵ̓an Sxwchalten, also known as Dustin Rivers, is an Indigenous Canadian politician and First Nations leader in British Columbia. He is serving his first term as councillor for the Squamish Nation Council. The youngest Councillor elected in the 2017 election, he topped the polls with the most votes and was appointed as one of two Official Spokespersons for the Squamish Nation Council. He serves on numerous Council committees including Finance & Audit, Governance, Human Resources, and chair the Planning & Capital Projects Committee, and deputy chair for the Rights & Title Committee and Climate Action Task Force.
A frequent critic of LNG projects and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, Khelsilem was recognized by Vancouver Magazine as one of the top 50 powerful people at #23 in 2018, and again in 2019 at #19.
On February 25, 2020, Khelsilem was interviewed by Linda Steele on Global News Radio about the anger and confusion around recent protests and blockades in support of Wetsuweten Nation.
1. Personal life and education
Khelsilem is Sḵwx̱wu7mesh on his mom and father’s side of the family, and Kwakwaka’wakw on his mother’s side. He was raised in the Squamish Nation communities of Eslha7an, also known as the Mission Indian Reserve No.6, and Xwmelch’stn, also known as Capilano Indian Reserve No.5, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. He lives in the City of Vancouver.
He attended Carson Graham Secondary School and some graduate degree classes at Simon Fraser University in Applied Linguistics.
Before entering politics Khelsilem was a graphic designer and artist, with public art featured in Vancouver Mural Fest.
In 2014 Khelsilem presented about his work to reduce the decline of Squamish language at Interesting Vancouver.
Khelsilem is a fluent Squamish language speaker which he learned as an adult. In 2015, he founded the non-profit Kwi Awt Stelmexw, an arts & education organization with the mission to restore Squamish language and culture. and in 2016 developed a language immersion program with Simon Fraser University to teach the Squamish language to Squamish people. He continued to teach for two years in the program he built before leaving the program upon being elected to the Squamish Nation Council.
In July 2019, Khelsilem publicly came out as a member of the LGBTQ2+ community and identifies as bisexual and queer.
2. Political career
In the 2017 Squamish Nation Election, he coordinated a campaign called ’the New Nine’ to elect nine non-incumbent candidates to the Squamish Nation Council. Out of the nine candidates promoted, eight were eventually elected.
As a Councillor, he has been involved in various projects and initiatives like the developing a not-for-profit housing society, the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project, and the purpose built rental and condo development project with Westbank on the Squamish Nations Senakw lands, also known as the Kitsilano Reserve next to Burrard Street Bridge.