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Claiming the land : Indians, goldseekers, and the rush to British Columbia Marshall, Daniel Patrick

Abstract

During the Fraser River gold rush of 1858, over 30,000 goldseekers invaded the Aboriginal lands of southern British Columbia, setting off Native-White conflicts similar to the Indian Wars of the American Pacific Northwest. Prior to the establishment of the Colony of British Columbia, 19 November 1858, British sovereignty was marginal and the Fraser gold fields clearly an extension of the American West. The Native world was not defined by the 49th parallel, nor the kind of violence that crossed the international border with the expansion of the California mining frontier. These goldseekers, in prosecuting military-like campaigns, engaged in significant battles with First Nations, broke the back of full-scale Native resistance in both southern British Columbia and eastern Washington State, and brokered Treaties of Peace on foreign soil. The very roots of Native sovereignty, rights and unrest, current in the province today, may be traced to the 1858 gold rush. This dissertation maintains that British Columbia's 'founding' event has not been explored due to the transboundary nature of the subject. It has little or no presence in Canadian historiography as presently written. The year 1858 represents a period of exceptional flux and population mobility within an ill-defined space. I argue that the key to the Fraser Rush is to be found south of the border: in geographic space (the Pacific Slope) and in place (California mining frontier). It examines the three principal cultures that inhabited the middle ground of the gold fields, those of the Fur Trade (Hudson's Bay Company and Native), Californian, and British world views. The year 1858 represents a power struggle on the frontier: a struggle of local Indian power, the entrance of an overwhelming outsiders' power, transplanted locally and directed largely from California, and regional and long-distance British power. It is a clash of two "frontier" creations: that of "California culture" and "fur trade culture" that not only produced violence but the formal inauguration of colonialism, Indian reserves, and ultimately the expansion of Canada to the Pacific Slope.

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