BC_history_01

In a case of genocide, one community might seek to erase another even from memory. This erasure helps the killers cope with the gross cruelty of killing innocents en masse. It also tends to reduce the shame attracted by a community unwilling to renounce a genocidal history.

In British Columbia, many Elders teach that colonizers used genocidal policies to aid the Crown’s original assertion of control in their territories. Tsilhqot’in 1, Nuxalk 2, Haida 3, Stl’ati’mc 4 and Elders from other Peoples essentially charge that, during 1862, the colonial administration of Governor James Douglas purposefully encouraged smallpox to spread among their ancestors. This policy included direct government actions and licensing settlers to violate English law as it concerned smallpox. Natives died by the tens of thousands in these unnatural epidemics. Over 75 percent of the Peoples noted above were lost in just a few months.

The Elders’ teaching originated in eye-witnesses accounts of how the disease arrived in their communities. In The True Story of Canada’s ‘War’ of Extermination on the Pacific, I show that the written record corroborates the Elders’ teaching with considerable consistency.5 It shows colonial officials acting in ways unmistakeably intended to cause new epidemics. It also contains: admissions of incriminating facts by settlers who spread smallpox; descriptions of settlers criminally violating English disease control laws; and, a record of motives where settlers staked land claims before introducing smallpox. Not only that, the colonial authorities can be shown to have manipulated the official record, apparently in anticipation of some outside inquiry into the dramatic death toll.

Several people recently brought to my attention a seemingly dishonorable and dishonest Facebook post by Daniel Marshall concerning my book’s support for the Elders’ teaching.

Daniel Marshall

If Mr. Marshall had read my book before commenting on it, which he clearly has not, and if he actually had the authority of knowledge that he implies, he would have been aware that I discuss the problems with Ball’s letter there at length. He had a responsibility to report these issues before offering this as evidence of good faith. Of course, if he did read my book, then, rather than just showing incompetence on this issue, he chose to distort the facts to recruit his readers to the anti-indigenous cause of suppressing the Elders’ teaching. In a scholarly setting, willfully distorting evidence, as opposed to mere incompetence in handling evidence, is a more serious offense than plagiarism.

Contrary to Mr. Marshall’s assertion, when examined in context, this letter actually supports the Elders’ teaching about a policy of genocide using smallpox and of a covert operation complete with cover up: the very opposite of the good faith Marshall advertises.

First, when Ball wrote this letter on July 6, as he is certain to have known and as I show in my book, smallpox already had broken out in June both in the Fraser Canyon and at Kamloops. His assertion to the contrary was a bold-faced lie.

Second, Ball refers to receiving instructions from Douglas in a letter dated May 20. Marshall does not produce this letter with Douglas’ actual instructions. In fact, the archived files do not contain any such letter. Douglas did write to Ball on May 20. But this letter does not contain instructions regarding smallpox. If the files did not contain another letter dated May 20, then one might suppose Douglas’ actual instructions just became lost. In short, either Ball blatantly lied for a second time, now about the instructions he actually received from Douglas; or someone removed from the file a separate May 20 letter with Douglas’ actual instructions to Ball. Why? Neither case is consistent with good faith. Either suggests bad faith. Covert actions typically involve cover-ups and Ball’s letter is perfectly consistent with such a theory.

Third, if Mr. Marshall had not been so eager to praise Douglas and contribute in his own way to the erasure of victims, he would have shown the good faith of enquiring about the actual experience of natives. Is the evidence of their experience consistent with a vaccination program having been executed? The Elders teaching at Lytton, in sight of Ball’s office, is that the colonizing community intentionally spread the disease by sending a man infected with smallpox to visit each house. It is noted in my book. The death toll was sudden and devastating. The few survivors burned their village with the dead still in their houses. If Ball had vaccinated the natives within sight of his office, this catastrophe would have been prevented. In short, what actually happened contradicts Ball’s letter and is consistent with the Elders’ teaching from other territories. Mr. Marshall had a responsibility to report this.

Fourth, a settler eye-witness later provided information that also contradicts Ball’s letter and supports the Lytton Elders’ teaching. The eye-witness confirmed that there was a government camp at Lytton, supposedly to vaccinate natives. However, he reported smallpox-infected natives coming from that direction and that these then continued on spreading the disease. This is consistent with a theory that the government camp at Lytton was not vaccinating natives, but, instead, inoculating them selectively with smallpox to spread the disease. Inoculation had been made illegal in 1840 precisely because of the ease with which it created new epidemics: hence the need for some kind of cover, such as Ball’s letter, if the government used the procedure. The evidence from elsewhere supports a conclusion that inoculation was used in other locations.

"Nuxalk Woman Discovers Smallpox Bodies - July, 1862" by Shawn Swanky
Scenes like this were a common result of Douglas’ expulsion of smallpox carrying natives from Victoria, which every observer knew was certain to spread the disease. When the consequences of an action are certain, English law holds that the actor intended those consequences.

Mr. Marshall refers to me as an “amateur historian,” apparently suggesting I may not be as qualified as him to analyze evidence. My academic degree is as a Doctor of Jurisprudence. I have all the formal qualifications required of those whose profession it is to analyze evidence for a living. I also have coursework in International Law and the evidence required for the prosecution of genocide at the international court. It is true that I am an “amateur” in the sense that, unlike most “professional historians,” I do not receive a salary from some institution of the Crown. In this regard, while publishing her Master of Laws thesis, indigenous scholar Tamara Starblanket refers to the extraordinary lengths used by academic gatekeepers at Canadian institutions, like professional historians, to insulate Canadians and the Crown from bearing responsibility for the genocide of its Indigenous Peoples.6 Mr. Marshall might have introduced me, instead, as someone honoured with an eagle feather for my work and who the Tsilhqot’in invited as the keynote speaker at the province’s exoneration of the Tsilhqot’in chiefs. Notice that every native elder teaching indigenous history also would be classed as an “amateur” historian by settler-colonial academics.

In addition to posting Ball’s bogus letter, Marshall reprints part of an insincere review of my book by Robin Fisher. Mr. Fisher admits to admiring Governor Douglas. His work little notes native sources and is silent about the Elders’ teaching. Hence, as he suggests himself, he seems little qualified to review my book. Unlike Marshall and Fisher, I do not accept that the indigenous history of BC can be covered simply by reading archived settler documents.

Mr. Fisher was so disposed in his own work to minimize colonial sins that he could not see through a second bogus document. Like Ball, the HBC Post Manager at Ft. Rupert wrote that he had vaccinated natives there and smallpox had not broken out. Yet eye-witnesses reported them dying like “rotten sheep” as he wrote this letter and in the end that they were nearly exterminated. He lied. Fisher, like Marshall, promotes that document to his readers at face value, failing to note the facts undermining its authenticity. See the similar fact pattern? An official writes that he “vaccinated” some natives, yet they die in large numbers. Careless scholars or those anxious to exonerate the colonial founders then report only the exonerating letter and not the incriminating result. The most charitable thing one can say about Fisher and Marshall is that they victimize their readers through incompetence in the verification or impeachment of facts to be used in evidence.

Mr. Fisher’s insincerity, and Mr. Marshall’s own ignorance of the period, is shown in repeating the laughable suggestion that, in supposing Douglas ran a genocidal smallpox policy, I am revealed as a naïve reader of the Daily Colonist. Yet, any true scholar of the period knows that that the Colonist was rabidly anti-indigenous. It supported the Douglas administration’s smallpox policies. It was, instead, the Daily Press that described these actions as an “extermination policy.” Notice that, when BC Studies allowed Fisher’s foolish remark to mislead its trusting readers, it undermined its own hope to be seen as a scholarly journal.

Tolerance of substandard scholarship and anti-indigenous-ism where indigenous issues are concerned seems the norm rather than the exception with BC’s settler-colonial academics. I have shown this already through an analysis of the University of Victoria sponsored website “Klatsassan” dealing with the Chilcotin War.7 Even the creator of that website has acknowledged that I am “the leading non-Tsilhqot’in authority” on the Chilcotin War. Curiously, Ball’s misleading letter concerning the Fraser Canyon is included in this website about the Chilcotin War, again without qualifying it as a questionable document. Why? Apparently because the academic gatekeepers will even risk their reputations as scholars to insulate Canadians from the Elders’ teaching.

My book raises the thought that, if Canadians truly seek reconciliation and not to be seen as hypocrites, then educators who demonstrate “anti-indigenous-ism” should be treated just as we treat those who show “anti-semitism.” The rule of law requires us to treat genocide-deniers equally. In an apparent response, Mr. Fisher intimated that Canadians might be treating badly its Jim Keegstras, purveyors of white supremacy promoting hatred. Perhaps Mr. Marshall is naïve in seeming to stand alongside Fisher in the company of white supremacists.

Notice that both Marshall and Fisher erase the indigenous Peoples by failing to mention that hundreds of indigenous Elders over the years have taught that the colonizers in Douglas’ time intentionally spread smallpox. They contribute to the erasure that is the work of a still-ongoing genocide. Again, this narrative of a smallpox genocide is not some strange discovery or novel theory of mine. It is the mainstream teaching of indigenous Elders among the Peoples concerned. It always has been. My only contribution is to show that considerable material in the written record supports the Elders’ teaching. And that, after one takes account of the bogus material and the material removed from the record, almost nothing there exonerates the Douglas administration.

One presumes that Marshall, Fisher and the class of academic gatekeepers noted by Starblanket began as innocents and were then recruited to continue the work of genocide until the erasure of the Elders’ teaching might be completed. I am currently writing a biography of Francis Poole. Poole came to BC in 1862 as an innocent but then admitted to facts which constitute the crime of spreading smallpox, as defined by English law in 1862. At the time, Poole was acting as an agent of Douglas’ legal adviser, Attorney General George Cary. Poole may have had a hand in the smallpox deaths of as many as 10,000 Nuxalk, Tsilhqot’in and Haida. Poole was recruited to this work. He then assisted with its cover-up. This led him to make countless lies, deceptions and dishonourable deflections as he continued the task of erasure in his memoir. His was an instructive experience. For, as Mr. Marshall’s Facebook post shows, innocents still are being recruited unawares to continue the work of this genocide.


  1. See the Tsilhqot’in National Government statement, Lhatsassin Memorial Day 2003, reprinted in Swanky, A Missing Genocide and the Demonization of its Heroes, (www.shawnswanky.com, 2014) p. 89.
  2. As noted in Swanky, The Smallpox War in Nuxalk Territory, (www.shawnswanky.com, 2016.)
  3. The March 2009 edition of HAIDA LAAS, Journal of the Haida Nation, is wholly devoted to coverage of a smallpox genocide memorial ceremony held at Bones Bay. This coverage contains both the allegation and a compelling proof of the existence of a formal plan for spreading smallpox in 1862 by the Douglas administration.
  4. See the Lillooet Tribal Council publication by Joanne Drake-Terry, The Same as Yesterday, 1989, esp. p. 85.
  5. Available through Amazon or, more quickly, here at www.shawnswanky.com.
  6. Tamara Starblanket, Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2018) p. 45.
  7. A Missing Genocide and the Demonization of its Heroes, (www.shawnswanky.com, 2014.)

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