I began by visiting the Tsilhqot’in Chief’s memorial. To remember, at first, all those who died. Tsilhqot’in or otherwise.
The Tsilhqot’in have a central role in this story but it affects all British Columbia natives. Yet this marker, hidden away at Quesnel, is the only one I know of touching victims of the 1862 genocide.
The task ahead? Reconstructing the story of their dying so you can understand the truth of it.
We cannot interview those who died. Or those who killed them. No ‘film at 11:00.’ And let’s not be naïve. Powerful entrenched interests would prefer this story stamped out. Or given a different spin. The guardians of Canadian mythology, historians, government officials and other agents of the established authorities are all heavily invested in an alternate story. Almost every day someone tell us it is unwise to stir all this up again. Do we have any allies? Only your open heart and a few poor souls genuinely committed to truth and honor as higher virtues.
It is awe-inspiring every time I come here. I sat for several minutes. Sounds filled the void first. A river runs behind these trees. It will help carry us where we need to go. In the trees, some birds. Street sounds a block away. Children playing, oblivious to the terror that once gripped this very ground. Hundreds died all at once. Innocents massacred.
This will be a long journey. Do I have the passion to conquer the dark moments? For I am not native. Unable, therefore, to draw on a sense of injustice. Nor have I, nor my family, done anything shameful we might wish to conceal. Like most in B. C., we are beneficiaries of genocide and European privilege. Unwittingly so, like most.
Yet, I am of this place. A part of the land. I shot my first film just around the corner. My Grandmother was born a stone’s throw from this memorial. Yes, born in a native graveyard.
So was my Father. The research he began almost ten years ago now forms the backbone of this story. We wanted at first to dramatize the Chilcotin War. Could we outdo Mel Gibson’s Braveheart? Why not? Then we discovered no one had ever written a reliable history to work from. Not one. It was astonishing. What order of people do not want to know their true history?
The Tsilhqot’in put this memorial for their martyred chiefs here about ten years ago. Five Tsilhqot’in were hung a couple of hundred meters from here for resisting the B. C. holocaust in their territory. Perhaps half or more of the B.C. native population died in only a few months during 1862/63. The Tsilhqot’in were at the centre of the storm and their death toll was much higher.
An Anglican minister consecrated the chief’s burial site as a cemetery. Canada then allowed the cemetery records to become lost. Nearby it desecrated other native grave sites with buildings. Graves from 1862. Minimizing, cover up and denial are typical of genocides. We’ll find many examples on the road ahead.
Old-timers say the bodies were more near the hospital entrance behind me. Still visible there when my Great Grandfather arrived 100 years ago.
You will have noticed my walking stick. A Tsilhqot’in walking stick. Hand-made by Wilfred William of the Xeni Gwet’in. From a tree deep in Tsilhqot’in territory. Near land subject to one of the longest legal cases in Canadian history. It’ll be 25 years before it ends. Millions upon millions in government legal fees. To ask, more or less, whether the Tsilhqot’in people lived for a long time in Tsilhqot’in territory. The lower court said they did. Who could have guessed?
Control of resources is the true issue. The case has its roots solidly in what happened during our history. By what sleight of hand did the Pacific native regimes become dispossessed of their resources? I suspect walking sticks also made formidable weapons for personal self defence. Against smallpox as a biological weapon, not so much.
So why am I making a point of this stick? Because it connects our B. C. holocaust to the one with which the word has become associated. The Nazi holocaust of the 1940s. For, when we get to our journey’s end, we will find the very same place is also the beginning of another journey. One which ends in the Nazi gas chambers.
This is a closer connection than Hitler’s well-known penchant for admiring the destruction of ‘redskins.’
My stick has no ornamentation. No totems. Very appropriate for a novice. However, Pacific natives sometimes carved elaborate designs in them representing spiritual powers.
Lord Bulwer-Lytton created British Columbia. And selected most of the first government and judges. Those in power when the native population died en masse. Though not to extinction.
Lytton was a novelist. He wrote a very popular novel called, Vril, The Power of the Coming Race. To anyone familiar with the facts, its secret setting was the Cariboo goldfields. If you need a sleep inducer, download a free copy here. Certainly Lytton wrote it after having the chance of interviewing some of those he sent out to run B.C. Moreover, the world traveler and the engineer from his story sound very much like two characters we will meet in our story. In fact, too close to be coincidence. Though our story is real, all-too-real.
In Lytton’s novel, a superior race is evolving underground. One which may rise and dominate the world. A master race. These superior beings gain near-magical powers from special walking sticks. ‘Vril’ sticks. Now, staffs and walking sticks have long been symbols of spiritual power and transformation. The Wizard card in Tarot. Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. Nevertheless, Lytton had the chance to become inspired for his magical stick from the example of native sticks with symbols of spiritual powers. It would not be the first, or last, time European fashion setters borrowed from a native culture while caring little for, or actually killing, the bearers of that culture. Google ‘Vril’ for some light entertainment. And to see how people easily confuse spiritual power with the ability to use weapons, dominate and kill.
Lytton’s book also contained fantasies of weapons of mass destruction. He imagined a weapon allowing a small group to control vast numbers of ‘others’ living in a surrounding wilderness. Very much like what happened in B.C. And, like the Nazis, he also imagined science, or something else, could either prove one race superior or produce one that was. ‘Scientific’ racism.
Some B.C. colonial figures even imagined Anglo-Saxons were the Biblical ‘Chosen People.’ Apparently people who suffer the delusion of moral superiority have less trouble convincing themselves that they are authorized to undertake almost any evil. To make earth a kind of hell. This, too, connects genocides.
Am I any better than Lord Lytton? Will I be another ‘white guy’ profiting from native pain? Will this project make a difference? I can’t answer these questions. I am unqualified now to comprehend all the traps, forces and emotions involved in a genocide. If this story were easy, someone would have done it before now. Yet someone should try.
I can only do my best to be respectful, listen and learn as I go. To fail forward. To involve native people and seek advice where I can. I plan to keep this walking stick with me as a constant reminder that my primary duty is to the victims. Whether a diligent hunt for the truth makes any difference to anything, I’ll leave up to her.
I doubt anyone makes money from a documentary. Okay, Michael Moore aside. Yet one needs money to make one. We may have a producer interested. I am off to this task next. Hop in and come along for the ride.