A classic west coast  thunderbird sits atop PKOLS.

A classic west coast thunderbird sits atop PKOLS.

Over 500 people gathered Wednesday evening at the top of PKOLS, the dominant landmark of the greater Victoria area, to witness leaders of the Saanich People declare their intention to reclaim its traditional name. They also erected a large sign marking the occasion. Settlers call it Mount Douglas.

The sign reads, “Erected in WSAHEC territory and on the border of Legwungen territory this has been and remains an important meeting place for many nations. The reclamation of PKOLS to replace the colonial name Mount Douglas recognizes the nation-to-nation agreements negotiated here and supports ongoing efforts of indigenous and settler people to restore balanced relationships to the lands they call home.”

There was also a re-enactment of the transitional meeting held here with Governor Douglas that allowed for European settlement to proceed. Tradition has it that Douglas was called to account here some time shortly after settlement began when a settler shot a native youth who had climbed a fence to follow a traditional trail between native communities. The local People intended to expel Douglas, and the incipient settlement growing around the H.B.C.’s Ft. Victoria, over this outrage. And they would have except for the interdiction of a priest who assured them that the settlers had a concept of the sacred and an appreciation of the importance of divine forces. And of the need for honorable behaviour in a civil society. The priest was misleading them, perhaps not intentionally. The concept of an immanent divine force was already effectively dead for Europeans by the 1840s and the early land speculators represented by Douglas regarded natives as a mere nuisance to be overcome by any means they could get away with. Douglas made a habit of fraudulent promises and then, when the immigrant society became sufficiently numerous, settlers overthrew the local regimes with violence and exercises in ethnic cleansing. That is the inherent nature of colonization everywhere.

Sometime after this meeting, Douglas produced pieces of paper for the local leaders to sign. However, instead of the peace and sharing agreements that the situation warranted, these turned out to be land sale agreements that the settlers eventually would interpret as signing away both native sovereignty and native title. Rather than a beneficial arrangement between indigenous and settler communities, they contemplated native extinction.

Sign arriving at the top after being carried uphill for over a kilometer.

Sign carried uphill for over a kilometer.

This interpretation of the so-called Douglas treaties as a three-way fraud perpetrated on the indigenous people, on the Colonial office in London and on those settlers who desired that the native population should be treated with honor so as to enjoy the mutual benefits of a new association seems the more likely given Douglas’ reputation. When Douglas left office, one newspaper described him:

…as a flippant trickster who had no more conception of dignity and responsibility than a mere schoolboy and whose highest notion of diplomacy was to flip important documents into a secret receptacle or a waste basket …

– The British Columbian, January 4, 1865.

Saanich leaders preparing to sign the declaration

Saanich leaders preparing to sign the declaration.

As Mount Douglas, this name has always been a symbol of exclusion and injustice. Under that name, it remains part of the harm suffered by the indigenous people when Douglas put the early settlements on the wrong foot by failing to recognize native sovereignty and settlers then began submerging the indigenous culture. PKOLS means “White Rock.” The name arises from the local creation story. It is a term used with gratitude for the land provided to those fortunate enough to benefit from the creator’s activity here.

Before this can become the healing initiative for which one might hope, there is a lot of work to be done. An informal poll conducted by a local radio station showed 65 percent against reclaiming the name and only 22 percent in favour, with the rest opting for both names.

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