Not White nor Brown

August 31, 2009

Many of us were taught in the early grades that Captain Cook and Vancouver were the principals who brought knowledge of the Pacific Northwest to the European/Asian continent, but this simply isn’t so.

The first records of discovery are affixed to a number of journals penned by  a Chinese navigator during the Sun Dynasty of 420 – 479 A.D. Hui Shen wrote of discovering a land of giants, who were covered in hair and the latitude he recorded coincides nicely with the region of the Pacific Northwest.

Fact is, early Chinese mariners used a magnetic needle and navigation by the stars prior to the birth of Christianity. Spaniards in the Gulf of California reported seeing large Chinese junks at anchor in 1544.

Eunice Harrison, wife of an early British Columbia judge, wrote in her journals of a trip she had taken with her husband into the interior of the province. During an encounter with the natives of Kispiox, near Hazelton, she was shown a ancient disk, actually sixty-four of them in all.

They were very ancient Chinese and engraved with ideograph designs. On one side there were eight diagrams from the Book of changes’ with the names in ancient Chinese characters. On the other side; “The Heaven is round while the earth is square.” Then follow six musical rules and nine mathematical formulas in between, with the following as an order rather than an invocation: “Wherever the God of Charms goes, all evil spirits shall disappear.” This being a charm of the Taoists.

The natives exchanged folklore that had been passed down from generation to generation which suggested the men who brought these disks to their country were believed by the natives to be blood-brothers and it is hard to argue that there was definitely a likeness to those same physical Asian characteristics that was dissimilar to the natives on the lower coast.

Photos of these discs are within the BC Archives, so the origin of the tale must have some truth, however more recent opinions would suggest that they were of A.D. 1500 to 1600. There too is Chilkat Tlingit mask which uses Chinese temple coins for eyes.


White Eyes

August 30, 2009

When the first white man came to the west coast in their tall sailing ships, they saw minimal value in what lay beneath the waters or what was hidden deep inland from the rugged shoreline, all that concerned them was acquiring as many precious pelts as the natives were willing to part with, in exchange for a few sticks of tobacco, a handful of buttons, blankets and sufficient alcohol to incapacitate their reasoning.

But in time competition for trade among the Spanish, Americans, British and Russians turned into a push for ownership and the race was on to establish a permanent foothold along the west coast of this land they called New Caledonia. The first to establish a settlement would win the race.

Before long the British set a machine in motion that would pillage the land of its tall trees, harvest the sea of it rich bounty of cod and salmon and squander all that was seen of  little value to those still residing on European soil.

The Native communities watched helplessly as the white man forced them aside with their big bore cannons, tore into their traditional hunting grounds and slaughtered the wild life that had fed them for centuries before. Where the native fished freely, the whiteman established regulations which governed the time and quantity that they were allowed to harvest. Where the native once planted his potatoes, the white man planted fences and aggressively stood guard against trespass.

In exchange for peace the white man offered the natives domination and the British rule of law, neither of which they understood. The white man put before the elders of each community a piece of paper with strange marks on it and in exchange for their own mark, the natives received blankets, strange coins and even more control. Little did they fully comprehend that they had given away their freedom along with their land.

The once resourceful native, quickly became reliant to handouts and every other vice that held the white-man captive to the other.

So many travisties took place, for so many centuries and all in the name of expanding the British Empire.

Colour Me Brown

August 29, 2009

Prior to the white man taking up land in the Pacific Northwest, the First Nations communities punctuated the east coast of Vancouver Island at intervals of approximately 15 to 20 miles apart. Because of the lack of usable land along the west coast of the island and that of the mainland, the frequency of settlement stretched out to a few hundred miles.

These settlements ranged in numbers from a few hundred to many thousand and for the most part this is the way it was until the Americans introduced small pox in the late 1850’s.

Let’s not be fooled to believe that life was peach and harmony for the Natives prior to the white man, for that would be a grave mistruth and injustice to their history. Fact is they fought amongst themselves, at times in such a barbaric way that few if any members of a given community survived. The only lives that were spared where those of women and children who could be used as slaves or instruments of trade.

On one such occasion in the early 1800’s, the Neah Bay nation from the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, wanted a portion of the annual salmon run which called the Sooke River home, but the T’Sou-ke were not inclined to share. Consequently the Neah Bay nation, negotiated with the Nitteenats of the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Cowichan band, to combine their forces and annihilate the T’Sou-ke. This they did quite effectively and when their deed was done, they had rendered a 2000 strong population down to a defeated 60 souls.

These battles for domination raged all up and down the coast with the most feared tribe calling the Queen Charlotte Islands home. The Hiada were fierce warriors and would set out in their long canoes in water even today considered the most treacherous on the globe. They would paddle as far south as the Olympic Peninsula in order to wreck havoc.

Wives were taken from the slaves and regretably many were discarded when they were deemed to be of no further use. A man would trade the sexual services of a wife whom he had less interest in for favours or items of value.

The law of the land was survival of the fitest and for those who defamed or harmed another, it was an eye for an eye. Justice was usually swife and lethal.

Thanks to the Spaniards who traded along the coast during the early 1700’s, the natives planted potatoes, turnips and a variety of other root crops. They harvested the wild cranberries that grew in profusion in the Fraser River delta and harvested all form of wild edibles, the likes of the camus bulb which tasted similar to a sweet onion when roasted.

While many would like to consider them backward, in many ways they were well adapted to the land in which they lived. They had no want for a compass and as mentioned would travel hundreds of miles to their determined destination and return without recorded incident. They understood that when Hemlock bark is crushed and boiled, it left a resin called tannin which they could use to weather proof their nets and hides.

As the white man came and took over their land, it was the native who offered a helping hand and made it all possible by providing the timbers needed for the European forts, in exchange for a few worthless trinkets.

For those wanting to fill in the gaps, Alan Twigg has done an excellent job with his book “First Invaders” and for those wishing to go a wee bit further, I would highly recommend “The Terror of the Coast” by Chris Arnett. The latter will give you a true insight as to the plight of the native at the hand of white man justice, during those early days.

Scottish Roots

August 28, 2009

As an introduction, please permit me to offer you an overview.

Having been raised in Victoria, British Columbia, and being a forth generation resident of this beautiful city, I have held a desire to delve into the roots of civilization here in the Pacific Northwest and more specifically, the colonization of Victoria by Europeans.

Through the course of building this blog, I hope to start with the pre-European days where the numerous native nations co-existed, thrived and traded between themselves and with the Spanish, American and British traders that plied the coast in their tall ships. Following that, I will move forward to the settlement of the land by the Europeans, forward again to the development of the colony, likely ending off in the late 1800’s.

Hopefully it will be a slow process, such that you may be able to embed yourself into each step of the way, with my easy going format which I trust you will find interesting to follow.

For you who are already familiar with the story, please feel free to interject, correct if you deem it necessary, and hopefully ad fact related to your own heritage as long as it aligns with the particular time frame under discussion.

For you who have questions, fire away, after all this is a forum where even I have much to learn. If I can’t answer your query, I will attempt to direct you to those who can.

So hang on, fasten your literary and historic seat belts and lets see where this will lead us.

Daryl Ashby

Published author of “John Muir: West Coast Pioneer”.