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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Co-operation and resistance : Indian-European relations on the mining frontier in British Columbia, 1835-1858 Vaughan, Patricia Elizabeth


This thesis examines Indian-European relations on the mining frontier in British Columbia. In the mid-nineteenth century, Europeans became interested in exploiting the mineral resources of British Columbia, specifically coal and gold. These minerals were of little intrinsic value to the native populations. Coal was used as a pigment and in ornaments such as labrets, but it was not utilized extensively. Gold was not used at all in the traditional or early post-contact periods. Mining was, therefore, an unfamiliar activity to the Indians. Nevertheless, when Europeans turned to exploiting these resources, the Indians demonstrated that they could readily adapt to this new activity. Several aspects of traditional northwest coast societies facilitated native integration into mining. Coastal cultures were preoccupied with prestige and rank. Positions in the social hierarchy were hereditary but had to be upheld constantly by means of property distributions called potlatches. In order to sustain the potlatch surplus production and business ability were necessary. While the natural wealth of the region, in part, enabled the Indians to maintain the potlatch, so did their energy and trading skills. The native populations had, in fact, numerous specialized economic activities, most of which aimed at producing a surplus of goods, both foodstuffs and manufactured articles. These features of traditional northwest coast societies facilitated Indian adaptation to mining and provided an incentive for their participation in this activity. The fur trade, however, furnished the frame of reference for the relationship which emerged on the mining frontier. The Indians mined and traded coal and gold to the Hudson's Bay Company for some years thus maintaining a cooperative economic relationship similar to that established during the fur trade. Eventually, this relationship was threatened by white miners, who, with their superior mining techniques and equipment, demonstrated that the Indians were irrelevant to their aims. The native populations did not passively submit to efforts by white miners to displace Indian labour and to secure control over production. On both the coal and gold mining frontiers, Indians resisted attempts by white men to disrupt the cooperative economic relationship established between themselves and the Hudson's Bay Company.

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