Jan 31 2008
In The Fallen Feather, we mention in passing one of Canada’s least known Indian wars.
The Chilcotin War of 1864.
This conflict had such far-reaching political consequences that I feel the need to write a few words.
Near Butte Inlet along the Halmalthaka River lies the sovereign territory of the Chilcotin Nation.
The British Columbia Supreme Court has reinforced a previous Supreme Court of Canada ruling that affirms Aboriginal entitlement to their traditional lands.
In Xeni Gwet’in the Court found that that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had established their Title to 200,000 hectares of land that is now confined within the province of British Columbia.
The recent Supreme Court rulings are a culmination of 150 years of protest and conflict. And began with the discovery of Gold and the introduction of disease.
The small pox epidemic had devastated the First Nations of British Columbia, and some tribes had lost up to 80% of their population to the disease.
In 1864 Alfred Waddington an entrepreneur from Victoria was building a road that would exploit the newly discovered Caribou minefield in British Columbia.
He used First Nations men in manual labour, but failed to pay them for their service. There is also evidence that his road crew forced Native women into prostitution, bartering food for sex.
Suffering from the devastations of the small pox epidemic, broken promises, and this humiliation, Chilcotin warriors retaliated and, in an act of war, killed dozens of surveyors as they trespassed.
Waddington, with the support of the Colonial Government assembled a posse of volunteers. Gunboats sailed up Butte Inlet and a hundred mounted men and British Marines combed the territory in search of these Chilcotin warriors.
To prevent a blood bath, Chief Klatsassin (Tsilhqot’in War Chief) and his men surrendered with the clear understanding that they would be treated as prisoners of war.
Again – promises made by setters that were quickly broken.
Contrary to British law, the men were tried as common criminals.
This error in law was noted by Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie who thought it was distasteful to hang these men. However, in his own words:
The blood of 21 whites calls for retribution.
And so they were hung.
The message was simple. The government would not tolerate challenges to who owned the land.
The Chilcotin conflict influenced Joseph Trutch BC Chief Land Surveyor and Future Governor.
Trutch expressed directly to the Macdonald government his militant views of Land claims during confederation talks between Ottawa and British Columbia. This war and other Canadian Indian Wars fundamentally influenced the direction of race relations in Canada. Culminating in the creation of Indian Residential Schools, and “The Final Solution” to the Indian Problem.
(Duncan Campbell Scott 1910 Departmental Superintendent DIA)
This policy of divide and conquer and the imposition of postal stamp sized Indian reserves is a direct result of the Chilcotin War of 64. From that crystallizing moment to this very day, Governments have continued to ignore this historical fact. Its time to pay the piper.
31 January 2008