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The Indian policy of the colony of British Columbia in comparison with that of adjacent American territories Trimble, William J. 1913

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By William J. Teimble
An opportunity for a somewhat unique study in
Western settlement appears to be offered in a comparison
of the history of Western Canada with that of the Northern Commonwealths of our own trans-Mississippi region.
In physiography and in character of population the two
areas are on the whole quite similar, but marked differentiation has occurred in government. Consequently the
political and administrative arrangements and adjustments which have been made during the process of Western development in the two regions would seem to constitute a field for study which is of peculiar interest to students of American history. While the locality itself
which we shall consider in this paper lies outside the Mississippi Valley, a brief excursus into the field of study
here suggested may not be entirely foreign to the purposes of this Association.
The Colony of British Columbia was brought into being and nurtured through its early years by a series of
important "rushes" in search of gold, the first of which
took place in 1858. This series of rushes was a part of
that immense overflow into new mining regions which followed the slackening of the California output in the later
fifties, and Californians (a term applied to all who came
from California irrespective of nationality) predominated, therefore, in the population of the new British Colony, much as they did in the camps which contemporaneously were springing up in the Territories to the south.
Governmental organization for the Colony was author- 2 INDIAN POLICY
ized by Act of Parliament, August 2, 1858, a
Douglas (later Sir James) became the first Governor.
Douglas established an administrative system and a mining code drawn by direct imitation from systems in Australia and New Zealand, and he initiated those measures
which together formed the Indian policy of British Columbia — a policy which was continued in its essential features when the Colony in 1871 became a Province of the
Dominion.1 This system, however, it should be clearly
understood, is quite distinct from that of Canada.2
The main features of the Indian policy of the Colony
of British Columbia may be summed up as follows: (1)
the title to the soil was not recognized to be in the Indians;
(2) there were no annuities and no payments to the Indians; (3) there was no special provision for education;
(4) a system of small reserves was established, in the assignment of which the principle of sequestration from
whites was not followed; and (5) Indians were held in the
eyes of the law to be fellow subjects with white men.
The adoption of this system was not due to differences between the Indian populations north and south of
the line in the country west of the Rockies. Some differences, it is true, there were. A great part of the natives
of British Columbia had been more uninterruptedly under the tutelage of the Hudson's Bay Company than those
across the boundary, and there was a larger sprinkling of
half-breeds; no one tribe in the Colony, on the other hand,
i As to the origin of the administrative system, see Correspondence
Boole of Sir James Douglas, pp. 44-47.
2 The principal features of the Canadian policy were the following:
(a) small annuities were paid; (b) Indian title to land was not distinctly
denied, nor clearly recognized; (c) reserves were assigned on the ratio of
one square mile to each family of five; (d) the mounted police were used in
administering justice; (e) a distinct policy of education was followed,
which included subsidizing of denominational schools and teaching of practical industry. See an article by William Trant entitled The Treatment of
the Canadian Indians in the Westminster Review, July, 1895, Vol. 144, pp.
506-527. INDIAN POLICY 3
was so powerful or so well organized as the Nez Perces
of Idaho, nor did the Indians of the interior of British
Columbia possess so many horses as did those to the south.
Yet the Shuswaps were very like the Couer d'Alenes, or
the Cayuses, and the untamability of the nomads south
of the Snake was matched by the wildness and ferocity of
the Indians to the far north. In numbers, organization,
and character in fact it is difficult to see that the natives
of the one section were better adapted to any specific system than were those of the other.8
The non-recognition of Indian title to the soil on the
part of the Colony of British Columbia was due in the first
place to lack of funds in the Colony and to the refusal of
the Imperial Government to assume any financial responsibility in the matter; but that which arose from
necessity was soon thought to be expedient and right and
became the basic principle of administration. '' The title
of the Indians in fee of the public lands, or any portion
thereof", wrote Hon. Joseph W. Trutch, an eminent
colonial official, "has never been acknowledged by Government, but on the contrary is distinctly denied." *
At about the same time that this principle was being
developed in the Colony, administrators of Indian affairs
in the adjacent American Territories were advocating
one similar thereto in place of the traditional American
practice. C. H. Hale, Superintendent of Indian Affairs
in Washington Territory, wrote as follows in 1863: "T
am well satisfied that a radical change should be made in
our mode of treatment towards the Indians. I do not
consider the language as any too strong when I say, that
a Statements as to numbers of Indian population may be found in
Documents Relating to Vancouver's Island Laid Before the Blouse of Commons, 1849, pp. 9, 10; also Beport from the Select Committee on the Hudson's Bay Company, 1857, pp. 366, 367. Information as to grouping of natives in British Columbia may be obtained from Tolmie and Dawson's Comparative Vocabularies of the Indian Tribes of British Columbia.
* Papers Belating to the Indian Land Question, pp. 12,18; also Appendix, pp. 10-13. INDIAN POLICY
for us to negotiate treaties with them as it is usually done
is little better than a farce. We profess by such an act
to recognize their equality in status and in power, and to
clothe them with a national existence that does not at all
pertain to them. Instead of thus exalting them in mere
form, they should be treated as they really are, the wards
of the government.'' Other quotations could be given to
show that many of the Indian officials on the field thought
that the acknowledgement of Indian rights to the soil was
a fundamental error.5
Since no land cessions were to be paid for under the
British Columbia system, there was no policy of bestowing annuities or subsidies, although gifts were sometimes
made for special reasons. To the students of American
Indian history special interest attaches in this connection
to the judgment of Mr. William Duncan, of Metlakahtla,
a man of great wisdom, and success in his dealings with
Indians. Mr. Duncan wrote as follows: "The policy of
dealing out gifts to individual Indians I consider cannot
be too strongly deprecated, as it is both degrading and
demoralizing. To treat the Indians as paupers is to perpetuate their babyhood and burdensomeness. To treat
them as savages, whom we fear and who must be tamed
I kept in good temper by presents, will perpetuate
their barbarism and increase their insolence. I would
therefore strongly urge the Government to set their faces
against such a policy."8
The annuity system as administered south of the
boundary was the cause of much dissatisfaction. Shrewd
and self-respecting Indians — and there were a good
many such — felt ashamed to receive annuities. "My
land", said one of them, "is not to be sold for a few
blankets and a few yards of cloth."   The goods were
6 Beport of the Commissioner of Indiai
Beport on Military Boad, p. 79; Contribute.
Montana, Vol. VI, p. 284.
« Papers Relating to the Indian Land Question, Appendix C, pp. 13-15. INDIAN POLICY 5
often ill-suited to the needs of the Indians, consisting at
times, as one agent described them, of "loose ends of New
York stores." The agents and superintendents thought
the principle itself of the annuity system indefensible;
but held that, if it had to be retained, annuities ought to
be issued, not to all members of the tribes, but to those
only who stayed on the reservations and showed inclination for work and progress. The main charge, however,
against the system, and a charge urged again and again
by the administrators of the Northwest, was that the
goods were purchased on the Atlantic Coast, and that
there was consequently an undue expenditure and an unwise selection. A serious fault seemed to lie, as a newspaper correspondent expressed it, with "the Great Father in New York who annually gets contracts for furnishing things to poor Lo."T
It can not be denied, on the other hand, that there
were peculation and mismanagement on the part of some
of the agents in charge of the Indians, and that some of
them were not averse to making deals with local merchants. We lacked indeed effective administration. Efficiency could not be expected of a system which, questionable under ideal conditions, was put into effect by men
who were chosen on a wrong basis, and who lacked training and esprit d' corps.
The Colony of British Columbia made no special
effort to educate the Indians. It was averred on the pari
of the Government that (to quote the language of a report) "the Government merely deferred the subject, be
lieving that it was far more important in the interests
the community at large to first reclaim the natives from
their savage state, and teach them the practical and rudi-
j San Francisco Daily Bultetm, July 24, 1862, and January 28, 1864;
Davenport's BecoUections of an Indian Agent in the Quarterly of the Oregon
Historical Society, Vol. VHI, No. 2, June, 1907, p. 108; The Weekly Ore-
gonian, September 7, 1861; Beport of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1860,
p. 185; 1861, p. 159; 1862, pp. 303, 397, 407; 1863, p. 459. INDIAN]
mentary lessons of civilized life."a Beyond establishing
reserves, however, and placing the Indians under law,
one fails to see how the Government tried to teach them
those "practical and rudimentary lessons." Certainly
there was no effort by the Government to teach the Indians agriculture or any of the practical arts, as there
was south of the line.
Whatever the other shortcomings of the American
method of dealing with the Indians, in respect to education at least the American system appears to advantage
in comparison with that of British Columbia. Schools
were gradually established on all reservations. Yet this
b. did not work well when forms of education then in
vogue were employed. There might be indeed quite a
furore when a reservation school was first opened, and
the novelty was unworn; but the white child's spelling
book or reader soon proved very tame to the young Indian, the more so because of the difficulties of pronunciation. The principal cause, however, for the failure of the
day schools was the nomadic habits of the parents; hardly had the Indian child started to school, when away would
go the family to the fishing or hunting grounds or to the
camas fields. Teachers who were in earnest met this
difficulty by establishing boarding schools, wherein the
children could be kept removed from the parental impulsiveness. The next step was natural. These schools
began to emphasize practical training, particularly agriculture for the boys and house-keeping for the girls. This
step, which was taken at a time when in American educational methods comparatively little attention bad been
paid seriously to this phase of education, was significant
and produced good results."
In no respect were the contrasts between the Amer-
n Land Question, Appendix, p. 4.
of Indian Affairs, 1860, p. 184; 1862,
-451, 473; 1864, pp. 78, 74, 85.
8 Paper,
r Belatii
i of the
). 263; 1863
, pp. 52
, 65, 82- INDIAN POLICY 7
ican and British Columbian system of dealing with the Indians more apparent than in the assignment of land. The
Indian reserves of British Columbia should be clearly distinguished from the Indian reservations of the United
States. The latter, as is well known, were large in area*,
they were assigned to a tribe or a number of tribes; they
were founded on the principle of sequestration from the
whites; and they were under the supervision of a resident
agent. The reserves of British Columbia on the other
hand were small; they were assigned to septs or f amilies;
they were often contiguous to settlements of whites; and
there were no special agents. In size the reserves varied
in all degrees from one acre to six thousand acres, the
general principle being that each head of family should
be allowed ten acres. In addition to their reserves,
moreover, the Indians of British Columbia had at first
the right to acquire land outside the reserves precisely as
white men; a right later modified, however, to the extent
that preemption could be exercised by Indians only by
special permission from the Government in each case.
The idea of estabHshing this system of reserves was
suggested to Governor Douglas by Sir E. Bulwer Lytton,
the celebrated author, then Her Majesty's Secretary of
State for the Colonies, and it was derived by Lytton from
a plan in use in South Africa for the settlement of the
Kaffirs.10 In the assignment of reserves Douglas insisted
that these in all eases should include, as he phrased it,
"their cultivated fields and village sites, for which from
habit and association they invariably conceive a strong
attachment, and prize more, for that reason, than for the
extent or value of the land." The officials of British
Columbia as a general thing were more considerate of the
prejudices and feelings of the Indians than was usually
the case in the United States.11
10 Papers Relating to the Indian Land Question, pp. 16, 17.
n An interesting example of this consideration was an '' Ordinance
to prevent the violation of Indian graves", which decreed that any one dam- 8 INDIAN POLICY
This reserve system seems to have been well adapted
to the conditions of life among the Coast Indians or
among those of the lower Fraser, for whose use (since
they made their living by fishing or by working for the
whites) a small parcel of land was sufficient; but for the
pastoral Indians of the interior it seemed manifestly insufficient. When British Columbia entered the Confederation, the Dominion Government tried earnestly to obtain a decided increase in the size of the allotments, but
they were raised only to twenty acres. A still more persistent controversy has been waged on behalf of the Indians by Roman Catholic clergymen and some others,
who urge recognition of Indian rights to the soil.12
There is left for our final consideration the treatment of the Indian in respect to administration of justice.
"I have impressed upon the miners," wrote Douglas to
Lytton, "the great fact,that the law will protect the Indian equally with the white man, and regard him in all
respects as a fellow-subject." And to another he said:
"The Indian population are considered by the laws of
England as fellow-subjects, entitled to protection and
punishable, when guilty of offences, through the sole action of the law."1S It followed on this principle that Indians who committed crimes were punishable as individuals, and that as individuals they were entitled to protection.
If one may venture to formulate any principle with
regard to the status of the Indian in our Northwestern
Territories, on the other hand, it is that the Indian was to
aging or removing any image, bones, or any article or thing deposited in,
on, or near any Indian grave in the Colony, would be liable for a fine of
$100 for the first offense and twelve months' imprisonment at hard labor for
the second. — Ordinances of the Legislative Council of British Columbia,
session from January to April, 1865, No. 19.
12 O'Meara's The Indian Land Question in British Columbia; Papers
Relating to Indian Land Question, pp. 27, 28, 86-91, 145-148.
is Papers Regarding British Columbia, Vol. I, p. 39; Miscellaneous
Letters (manuscript), Vol I, p. 37. INDIAN POLICY 9
be treated as a member of a tribe and not as a citizen.
Certainly it was easier in case of outbreak to take vengeance on a tribe than to bring to justice individuals. Indeed there can scarcely be said to have been for awhile
any regulated administration of justice in the case of
Indians in the American Northwest. The reservation
system weakened the ancient tribal authority since the
practice of subsidizing the chiefs tended to alienate them
from the people, and the presence of agents lessened their
prestige in the eyes of the young or the evil-disposed.
The agents on their part had no authority for the punishment of criminal acts. If they had possessed magisterial powers with regard to both whites and Indians,
such as were exercised by the gold commissioners in British Columbia, much injustice and lawlessness might have
been avoided. Local authorities had no jurisdiction
over Indians who were on reservations, although they
sometimes punished Indians who were off of them;
moreover, these authorities were in sympathy with
the white population, and had little regard for the rights
of an Indian. Military authorities also sometimes arrested Indians for civil crimes and gave them short trials
and scanty justice. Clearly legal procedure in the Territories with regard to Indians was in a very haphazard
Let us contrast with this state of affairs the simplicity
and certainty of the administration of law in British Columbia. "When Indians commit crimes," ordered the
Governor, "they are to be dealt with impartially and to
receive a fair trial before the proper authorities, and not
to be treated like the wild beasts of the forest." " Of
the actual local administration we may catch a vivid
glimpse from the terse records of an old manuscript police book, which chronicles the petty trials held at Fort
Hope, then a frontier town near the first great bend of
i«Miscellaneous Letters (manuscript), Vol. I, p. 37. 10
the Fraser. An Indian for stealing money from another
was sentenced to two days in jail. Two Indians for being drunk and disorderly were sent to jail for twenty-
four hours. Samson B. McClure was charged by an Indian with assaulting him and was fined forty shillings.
William Welch, charged by another Indian with the same
offense, claimed that the Indian had beaten his dog and
attacked him with a knife; Welch was let off, and the Indian was reprimanded. Another Indian who struck a
squaw in the face with a gun had his hair cut off — to an
Indian of that region a punishment truly grievous. J.
Spencer Thompson, for selling about one pint of liquor
to an Indian, had to pay a fine of one hundred dollars
and lost his license to sell liquor. The record reveals
that whites, Chinamen, and Indians were treated exactly
alike. Of course for grave offenses criminals of all nationalities were bound over to the assizes. This even- '
handed, carefully adjusted administration of equity and
law contrasts plainly with the carelessness, ruthlessness,
and lack of system in the Territories. One could scarcely imagine an event like the following occurring on an
American frontier: "May 28,1862, Chas. Millard, Captain of the Ft. Hope [steamboat] appeared to answer the
complaint of Jim (an Indian) for having on the 16th instant broken and otherwise damaged his canoe at Union,
valued at twenty-five dollars.    ($25.00).
"Ordered to pay Four Pounds (20.00) being the damage sustained by the Indian as sworn to by C. C. Craigie
and Wm. Yates.   Paid.
"P. O'Reilly, J. P.""
I have been asked a number of times, by persons interested in this study, "Which proved to be the better
system, that of the United States or of British Colum-
16 The Port Hope Police Book (manuscript) is in the private library
of His Honour, Judge Frederick W. Howay, of New Westminster, B. C.
The author is greatly indebted to Judge Howay for his courtesy in making
accessible his valuable collection of historical material. INDIAN POLICY 11
bia.'' I am not able to give a mature answer to this question if for no other reason than that I have not investigated the course of Indian affairs in British Columbia
subsequent to Confederation. Two observations, however, may be made upon the Colonial period. In the first
place, one important cause of disturbance in the United
States was lacking in British Columbia, in that the Indians were not required to stay upon their reserves. To
quote the words of a writer upon the Canadian treatment
of the plains Indians: '' Reserves were not prisons''. In
the second place, excepting one small outbreak, there was
nothing like an Indian "war" in Colonial British Columbia; and in repressing this one outbreak great care was
taken to punish individuals and not to take vengeance
upon tribes. South of the line during the same time there
were the usual antagonism, the usual murders, the usual
wars to stay settlement on the part of the Indian, and
their usual desperate attempts to resist going upon reservations.
Another question may be raised by practical men of
affairs as to the usefulness of thus contrasting bygone
solutions of bygone problems. Replying, in conclusion,
we may say that such study would seem to bring into relief some weaknesses of American fife as it developed in
the frontier period, which we are now trying to recognize
and to eradicate. On the other hand, there were not wanting philanthropic tendencies of moral beauty and power
in our treatment of the Indians. The American system
presupposes possibility of progress and improvement,
whereas the British Columbia system to a certain extent
seems to be content to administer justice to subjects without particular emphasis upon the development of citizens.
But certainly we must judge the Indian policy of
British Columbia as a part of a great achievement of the
human race, when we view it as a manifestation of that
superb Pax Brittanica, which has brought order and justice to many far-lying regions of the earth.   


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