It was my honor yesterday to meet Cecil Planedin. Cecil invited me to his shop so that he could thank me personally for my book. “Now I can finally find out something of the real history of B.C. I may read it 7 or 8 times.”
Cecil identifies himself as a Doukhobor wood-block printer. Doukhobors have hands on experience with religious persecution in Canada, with promises to minority communities made and broken, and with enforced assimilation. Like me, he was amazed to learn that a one acre mass grave of several hundred northern native smallpox victims in Victoria could go without being generally known.
Unassuming people like Cecil are one reason that Canada’s underlying policy of encouraging native extinction has less hope of achieving its ultimate goal. Canada routinely shrinks the resources available to any native community until it can no longer survive on what has been left to it; or until its children can have little hope of a decent future unless they abandon their culture and, as a result, often are driven to acts of despair or suicide.
Many Doukhobors live in Sinixt territory, which extends from below the U.S. Border near Grand Forks and Trail, up the Arrow Lakes to the Columbia headwaters. With the scratch of an Indian Act bureaucrat’s pen during the 1950s, Canada moved the Sinixt on paper to what was always anticipated would be an ever growing “EXTINCT” column. British Columbia then built hydro-electric dams which flooded much evidence of Sinixt culture and the reach of its occupation without the honorable pleasantries of consultation, accommodation or compensation.
Yet the Sinixt have refused to co-operate in an actual extinction out on the ground. They number a few hundred and are growing, with a council, a language, spokespeople and community activities. The Sinixt Nation has a Facebook page and some Internet websites in an ongoing campaign for recognition. This photo from the Sinixt community, and other information, can be found at the Sinixt Nation Page.
Cecil has lent his hand to aid the Sinixt campaign. He created a master wood block from which they can print t-shirts making the point that Canada’s rush to judgment was premature.
As Cecil says, no matter what the government or the history professors contend, the people always know what actually happened in their own communities. Even if they have been persecuted for telling their history and even if their history has been vigorously denied by government appointed authorities, truth has a very long half-life and it will find its own voice. Doukhobors also convey in speech from elders to children the story of their communities, in the usual way that every community does, though they admittedly have nothing near the capacity for oral tradition as the indigenous people.
So how did the Sinixt People decline so that Canada could make the pretense of an extinction? Did the population just go into a long slow decline following some natural order of evolution as Canada and its historians would have you believe? Or was there a different cause?
Let’s listen to their story, as conveyed by the local people who knew the actual cause of the decline and as recorded at sinixt.kics.bc.ca/history.html:
Sinixt descendants believe their ancestors were victim to deliberate smallpox infestations…a time described as ‘the Great dying’.
They speculate about having been targeted on account of some strategic purpose to diminish resistance from other natives. The readers of my book will recognize that the Sinixt occupied the overland route first used by Canadian settlers and colonists to reach the Pacific in the 1840s. And that Clan McDonald and Ft. Colvile sat at the lower end of Sinixt territory when smallpox swept the Columbia valley in the early 1850s. Clan McDonald went on to figure prominently in the smallpox epidemics of 1862 elsewhere in B.C.
Canadian culture has created an invisible wall between the native experience and other Canadians. Canadians generally prefer not to know what happens across the wall. Indeed, the dominant culture hopes that, when the wall comes down, it will experience the happy relief of finding nothing on the other side. Canadians generally, that is, except for a quiet class of unknown social revolutionaries, decent Canadians who do not fear truth or justice, and who will not be led down the path of denial but will take their own small steps in other directions. Decent people like Cecil; and people like you.