International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies (WCILCOS) (5th : 2012)

The forgotten ties : relationships between First Nations people and early Chinese immigrants in British Columbia, Canada (1858-1947) Chow, Lily Siewsan

Abstract

In recent years, investigations on intermarriage between Aboriginal people or First Nations and the early Chinese immigrants have gained momentum. Journalists and historians began interviewing Canadians with both Chinese and First Nations ancestry, recorded their family story, and produced plays and documentary videos with their findings. Some descendants of these intermarriages acknowledged their ancestries in public and made attempts to find their Chinese roots in China. However, contacts and interactions between these two ethnic groups must have occurred before marital union could take place. The initial association between the First Nations people and the Chinese immigrants took place in 1858, the year when the Fraser Gold Rush began. Thousands of American miners and prospectors flocked to the Fraser Canyon, particularly to Hill’s Bar, followed by hundreds of Chinese miners from California as well as people of many walks of life who wanted to get rich by finding gold. During the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway Andrew Onderdonk employed Aboriginal people, Chinese labourers and other races in his work force. These two vital historical events set the stage for Chinese immigration to Canada as well as provided opportunities for the Chinese immigrants to come in contact and interacted with the Aboriginal people. Their contacts and interactions continued as time progressed and opportunities arose. In this paper attempts are made to explore the many circumstances in which these two ethnic groups interacted with one another that led to the development of friendship, partnership and intermarriage, and how the political, economical and social situations had affected their relationships. Efforts are also made to examine the effects of cultural differences on their intermarriage, and a few key issues that challenged their co-existence as two different ethnic groups.

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