We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

An Indian Policy

The British Columbian, May 21, 1864

Circumstances now transpiring around us would seem to point to the present as a fitting time for the consideration of the important subject of inaugurating some sort of systematic policy for the management and improvement of the aborigines of this country. We are quite aware that there are those amongst us who are disposed to ignore altogether the rights of the Indians and their claims upon us – who hold the American doctrine of “manifest destiny” in its most fatal form, and say that the native tribes will die off to make way for the Anglo-Saxon race, and the quicker the better; and, under the shadow of this unchristian doctrine, the cry for “extermination” is raised upon every pretext. Very different, however, are the views and sentiments held in reference to the aborigines by the British Government. The representatives of that Government may not, in every instance, faithfully delineate Imperial mind in this respect. A very unhappy illustration of this occurred in New Zealand in 1840, when Capt. Hobson, in conjunction with Sir George Gipps, cooked up a pretended treaty with the natives and pawned it upon the Imperial Government. We say pretended because, although it was done in the name of all the tribes, few of them knew anything about it. This so-called treaty was as unjust as it was fraudulent, and the fruits of it are to be seen in a 23 years’ war, which has cost upwards of six millions of British cash and many thousands of British lives, and the end of which has not yet come.

“Honesty is the best policy” is true in every department of human action. It is cheaper and better everyway to deal honorably and even generously with the aborigines if we look no higher than pounds, shillings and pence. Depend upon it for every acre of land we obtain by improper means we will have to pay dearly in the end, and every wrong committed upon these poor people will be visited upon our heads as sure as justice is one of the immutable attributes of Him who avengeth the wrongs of the weak and oppressed of whatever color or caste.

Canada and the United States afford a very striking illustration of this. In the former the Government assumed a paternal oversight of the Indians, treating them as minors, laying out and regulating their reserves, encouraging and maintaining their schools, and in every possible way giving them to feel that they are British subjects and that their “Great Mother” earnestly desires their welfare; and thus the Indian affairs in that Province have assumed the important position of a regular Governmental Department. Nor are the happy fruits of this system wanting: The Indians are not only peaceable, orderly and well disposed towards the Government, to a man, but their civilization and improvement have progressed at a most satisfactory ratio. If we look into the United States, so-called, we see a very different state of things. The disposition of the Americans to despise the native tribes, ignore their rights and drive them back before the onward march of the pale-faced intruder with the rifle has also produced its fruits. How much in money and how much in blood the Indian policy(?) of the United States has cost that people we are unprepared to say; but it must be something enormous. In one year alone we believe we are correct in saying it cost ten million dollars!

The Indian question is certainly not invested with less importance in British Columbia than in those countries to which we have alluded, whether we consider them numerically in the abstract or as compared with the white population. Making due allowance for the ravages of the small pox, which it is estimated carried off upwards of five thousand during '62 and '3, the Indian population of this Colony, which now includes Stiken, may be estimated at fifty-five to sixty thousand; and although many of the tribes have been reduced to insignificant remnants, yet there are still several powerful and war-like tribes, who, in the event of a rupture with the whites, would constitute a formidable and dangerous enemy. So far as our past and present relations with the Indians is concerned there is no use in mincing matters. There is a total absence of any policy – anything deserving the name of a system. The policy of the late Governor was precisely that of the company of traders he was nearly all his life connected with; and that system may be summed up in two words – cunning and deceit. A policy which may have proved tolerably successful in bartering brass buttons and glass beads for skins is hardly the thing to regulate the intercourse of the British Government with these "ancient lords of the soil." Instead of promoting that confidence in and veneration for the new authority it begets suspicion and distrust.

This Colony has been established under a more enlightened and civilized epoch in the world’s history. We are not one whit inferior to the founders of other Colonies, and we possess the valuable advantage of their experience. It behooves us, therefore, to adopt an Indian policy at least not inferior to the best system now extant. It has fallen to the lot of Governor Seymour to inaugurate that system; and we are happy in believing that His Excellency would not appear to be destitute of the requisite qualifications for the important and, in some respects, difficult task; and if he succeed in establishing an enlightened and truly British Indian system for British Columbia he will earn the gratitude of the people and the thanks of his Sovereign.

We have not room now to indicate such a system, as we think is needed; and if we had the task would hardly devolve upon us, as our views upon that subject were pretty fully expressed in a series of articles during last year. With the experience and talents he possesses, assisted by such information and advice as lie within his reach, we have no misgivings as to the ability of His Excellency to create and reduce to practical working an Indian system for this Colony which, while it will tend to reconcile, elevate and civilize the aborigines, will reassure the whites, and place the country upon a more healthy and enduring basis. Let the meeting of several thousand Indians on Tuesday — most of them representative men – be turned to good account as the first step towards this great work. The impressions of that day will be lasting for good or for ill.

Source: "An Indian Policy," The British Columbian, May 21, 1864.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History