Indian Reserve Commissioners at Musqueam

Canvas tents

These are the types of canvas tents that the members of the Indian Reserve Commission may have lived in on their way around the coast.

This is my second post in the series that covers the Indian Reserve Commission Journals kept by Alexander Caulfield Anderson in 1876 and 1877. In my last post, the two Commissioners, Alexander Anderson and Archibald McKinlay, arrived at Musqueam Reserve, while Gilbert Malcolm Sproat remained in Victoria looking after business:

It is November, 1876. Anyone who lives on the coast knows that although the temperature is probably somewhere between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius, it can feel damp and cold. There were no extra beds on the Leonora, and the commissioners slept in tents on the beach. It must have been agony from the first day!

“Thursday 9th. Heavy rain with S.E. wind… Mr. [Edward] Mohun [the Surveyor] returned [from New Westminster] at 12.30 with the necessary information. Told Simila-neuch [Simi-la-leech, or Similano] to prepare a good canoe, and at 1.30 proceeded to visit lots 8 & 9 on Sea Island, immediately opposite to the Indian Reserve. These lots, fortunately and unexpectedly, were the only lots unsold [to Colonists], though application for their purchase had been made. We found them admirably adapted for the purpose in view, presenting a level and dry surface of about 80 acres of the richest soil, chiefly hay-meadow, and in all respects superior to the lots now occupied by Boyd, who it appears has a Crown Grant for the piece previously asked for by the Indians. These sections we decide on appropriating as an adjunct to the Indian’s Reserve; and the Indians, who were till now impressed with the idea that the lots now given them had already been secured by white men, are delighted with the unexpected fulfillment of their desires.

“After a fatiguing tramp in the heavy rain we re-embarked. Our canoe, powerfully manned and very swift (she had carried off the palm at the Indian regatta at New Westminster in honor of H.E. the Governor General’s visit) soon reached the camp.

“Friday 10th — The heavy rain of yesterday ceased about midnight, the wind shifted round suddenly to N.W., and blowing with great violence continued through the day. Our little “Leonora” dared not face the Gulf of Georgia — compelled therefore to stop. Spoke to the Indians, assigning them formally their old Reserve and the recent addition, and giving them such advice as seemed appropriate.”

In his book, Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance, and Reserves in British Columbia, Cole Harris wrote this:

At the formal meetings, Anderson and McKinlay, who did most of the speech making for the commission, said that they had been sent by the Queen for the Indians’ good, which was to become more like white men. The whites had already improved them, and if they worked hard, cultivated more land, gave up whisky drinking and the prostitution of their women, and followed the law and their missionaries’ teachings, they would improve further. Some of McKinlay’s speeches survive, summarized in his diary. He told the Musqeam that their ancestors had lived in a bounteous land, but still “the poor Indians were unhappy because they took such pleasure in killing and tormenting their fellow creatures.” 

To a degree, all this is correct. I know that while at Nanaimo, Anderson expressed his concern about the prostitution of the Indigenous women in that town. Cultivating land was also one of Anderson’s pet programs: on at least three occasions over his fur trade life, he attempted and sometimes succeeded, in teaching the Natives to take up farming. In later years he was a farmer himself, though not a successful one. He grew the vegetables and grains that he had known in the fur trade and was not nearly as successful a farmer as his neighbours, who grew hops for the breweries and always had a ready market.

Anderson would also have encouraged the Musqueam to follow the teachings of their missionaries [although I am not sure any missionaries were near the Musqueam Reserve]. The Natives he knew in the interior tended to be religious as they had been exposed for many years to the teachings of Spokane Garry, who had tremendous influence among the Okanagans and Spokanes. The Similkameens were closely related to the Okanagans. I suddenly realized how religious the Similkameen Black-Eye, and his son, might have been, when I discovered in Royal Engineer Lieutenant Palmer’s 1859 “Report on the Country,” a record of Palmer’s meeting with some Similkameen men at Red Earth Fork [Princeton]: 

The Romish religion is universal amongst them, propagated, I imagine, by the members of the Jesuit missions on the borders of Washington territory, and I was not a little surprised to see that, on entering camp, they invariably crossed themselves before making the sign of respect or salutation. [Lieutenant Palmer, “Report on the Country”]

 Anderson may also have had plenty to say about the alcohol that unscrupulous men supplied to the Natives. He called it poisonous, and I know that at Fort Whoop-Up, near Lethbridge east of the Rocky Mountains, white men sold alcohol that was made of castile soap and Painkiller medicine. One recipe goes this way:

1 gallon of high wine, 3 gallons water

1 quart alcohol, 1 pound of rank black chewing tobacco

1 handful red peppers, 1 bottle of Jamaica ginger

1 quart black molasses, Water ad libitum

Mixed well and boiled until the strength is drawn from the tobacco and peppers. 

The above recipe is found in “Whisky Trade and Recipes,” Fort Whoop-Up: Alberta’s First and Most Notorious Whisky Fort, by Georgia Green Fooks (Occasional Paper No.11, Whoop-Up Country Chapter, Historical Society of Alberta). I can’t read the handwriting of the person who gave me this paper very well, so if I have any names [such as Fooks] wrong, please let me know.

The one thing I find consistent among the HBC men, the Royal Engineers who came out in 1858, and the early colonists, is that the “Fish Indians” of the coast were compared unfavorably to those who lived in the interior. Anderson and his brother came to the HBC as a direct result of reading James Fenimore Cooper’s stories, and so, too, did the many of the Royal Engineers. Most of you will recognize the romantic unrealness of Cooper’s stories when you are reminded that he wrote Last of the Mohicans, a book which was made into a movie a dozen or more years ago.  Like others, Anderson also looked down on the coastal Natives. In his “Notes on the Indian Tribes of British North America” [written in 1855], he described the Chinooks on the Columbia River as “gross, sensual, and for the most part cowardly,” and said that “the races who depend entirely, or chiefly, on fishing, are immeasurably inferior to those tribes, who with nerves and sinews braced by exercise, and minds comparatively enabled by frequent excitement, live constantly amid war and the chase.”

In 1858 Anderson came to Fort Victoria, and in 1862 he moved to North Saanich, where his close neighbours were the Indigenous people who lived on the Reserve at what was then Union Bay [Deep Cove]. Anderson “worked to improve the lot of the Natives on the Tseycum Reserve, encouraging them to cultivate their clayey soil. Some of the Tseycum now raised pigs and cattle or farmed small sections of richer soil, and a few had been learned the art of grafting and owned small, thriving orchards.” Anderson always loved experimenting with grafting trees: he taught all his male children to art of grafting. [It would actually be fun to know if these trees and orchards still existed on the Reserve.] “Anderson was also their self-appointed Doctor…” The quote is in my book The Pathfinder, but the information comes from Anderson’s son, Walter Birnie Anderson, who later in life wrote a series of articles about his early days in North Saanich. These articles were published in the Daily Colonist in 1937.

But enough of that. I think Anderson may have come to recognize that the “Fish Eating Indians” of the coast had some admirable qualities. Archibald McKinlay, however, did not have that opportunity. McKinlay insulted the Cayuse Indians while he was in charge of Fort Walla Walla. He had lived on the lower Columbia and he was familiar with the Chinook Indians. For many years, however, he lived and ranched at Lac la Hache. I am not aware that he was ever exposed to the coastal Indians other than the Chinooks, or had any understanding of them. His journal is in the B.C. Archives, under number E/C/M21, on Reel A01958. Its hard to read, but in his Private Remarks, he says this:

At Musqueam I spoke a few words as is shown in journal.

At Burrard’s Inlet Dominion Commissioner [Anderson] spoke first but attempted to interfere with me when speaking afterwards. 

At See shill [Sechelt] Dominion Commissioner spoke first. I afterwards made a few remarks but while I was speaking Dominion Commissioner returned to tent. I stood and listened to him on all occasions.

I have not had the chances of education that my learned brethren of the Commission have had. At least I cannot quote from Virgil, Homer, Sheakspear [sic] & Byron as glibly. But I have had another education. I have met with numbers of men of all classes. I have in business considering all things met with probably as many different classes and learnt human nature probably as correctly as either of my colleagues. I know I understand matters as well if not better than one of them the one I allude to really disgusts me by his conceited [severity?].

I don’t know what Anderson said in his speeches, but I can guess he would stick close to the types of encouragement that he was used to in the HBC. Encouragement — not disparagement. Cole Harris says in his book, Making Native Land, that McKinlay told the Musqueam that their ancestors “lived in a bounteous land, but still “the poor Indians were unhappy because they took such pleasure in killing and tormenting their fellow creatures.” In another speech he says:

Indian Hear Me… He [the white man] found the different tribes on this coast very wild and barbarous — they had the whole country to themselves but all the use they made of the fine country which god had given them was to kill.. and steal from each other. One tribe would attack another, kill or make slaves of them. The poor Slaves in many instances they would kill for fun and the poor wretches they kept alive they starved and kicked, tormented & threatened to such an extent that life proved a burden to them…

As Cole Harris says, the Indian Reserve Commission fell apart almost immediately. As we see here, it happened on about the first day, or at least at the first camp, when Anderson and McKinlay argued. Sproat wasn’t even at the camp yet, and more dissension would come on his arrival. As Harris says: “McKinlay, who had little formal education, thought his colleagues put on airs… Sproat thought McKinlay kindly but dull, and Anderson more able but lazy. He thought they both drank too much, particularly in front of Indians. When as happened from time to time, the commissioners were hardly speaking to each other, they exchanged formal notes from adjacent tents.” Which would be what the two HBC men would have done, naturally, as it was what all fur traders did if they worked for the HBC.

So you can already see what is going to happen in the future!

When the next post is written, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2017. All rights reserved.



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