Frequently recognized by the Tsilhqot’in for his extensive familiarity with both the oral tradition and the written record, Tom Swanky guides the reader through an analysis of the University of Victoria originated website “Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War.” And even includes new material about the Chilcotin War not available from any other source.
Based in part on its website “Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War,” the Great Unsolved Mysteries project won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for popularizing Canadian history and a MERLOT award from the California State University project on Multimedia Education Resources for Learning and Online Teaching.
It is disappointing, then, to find that “Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War,” makes no attempt at balance, objectivity or even accuracy.
Instead, it flagrantly disrespects the Tsilhqot’in perspective on events surrounding the war and buries its few Tsilhqot’in selections under a disproportionate barrage of unimportant detail.
Just as astounding, as this Review documents at length, the website disregards any standard of care for accuracy from even the written record.
Does the acclaim given to this flawed production reflect a willingness of academics to abandon all scholarly discipline on the Internet, or does it reflect an anti-indigenous colonial legacy still alive and well at Canadian universities?
The website has won international acclaim.
But does it have a balanced perspective?
Website's settler sources:
Website's Tsilhqot'in sources:
Descriptions of the settlers:
Settlers who were victims: 30
Colonial leaders concerned with law and order: 12
Officials who participated in martyring the Chilcotin Chiefs: 0
Settlers abusing native women: 0
Unscrupulous trading partners alleged to have spread smallpox: 4
Settler-colonists who admitted introducing smallpox: 0
Settler-colonists claiming land illegally: 0
Land speculators spreading and benefitting from smallpox: 0
Descriptions of the Tsilhqot’in:
Murderers, possible murderers or accused of murder: 18
Tsilhqot’in warriors who killed settler-colonists in a war: 0
Tsilhqot’in victims, of war or smallpox: 0
Neutral Tsilhqot’in: perhaps, 1
Tsilhqot’in leaders concerned with preserving their system of governance: 0
Good Tsilhqot’in for helping the settler-colonists control “Bad Indians”: 10
Good Tsilhqot’in for implementing Tsilhqot’in policy: 0
Tsilhqot’in who resisted smallpox spreaders: 0
1. No. The website teaches an admittedly false history of “murder…not war.”
2. The website creates fictions, omits, obscures or conceals important evidence.
3. The website seems poorly informed about the historical context.
4. A failure to locate the key issue. Notes on Dr. Lutz’s essay.
5. An integrated narrative of the Homathko campaign.
Appendix A: The Tsilhqot’in Statement.
Appendix B: Fur trading, the Tsilhqot’in, Fort Alexandria and The Smallpox War.
Appendix C: Essay by Dr. John Lutz.
At first glance the canadianmysteries.ca website “Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War” seems comprehensive, down to the smallest detail. Yet, from across the invisible wall separating native and non-native experience in Canada, it appears uninformed, careless of basic facts, lacking in fairness toward the indigenous perspective, enamoured of discredited mythologies and plagued by shoddy craftsmanship.
While the website’s virtual archive is a valuable resource for senior researchers, its self-generated material, organization and even its document selection make it a powerful source of misinformation. Moreover, the key issue is actually obscured rather than revealed.
Since public education and opinion strongly affect the present and future ability of the Tsilhqot’in, as a minority community, to enjoy “their constitutional rights and related interests,” the website seemingly puts the Government of Canada, as the website’s funder, and the three university sponsors in violation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Declaration provides that Indigenous Peoples have a right to see their histories treated “with dignity” and “appropriately reflected” in education and public information. The website makes little attempt at this standard. Instead, it disrespects the Tsilhqot’in voice and then buries its narrative. The result is a virtual celebration of the worst features common to colonial culture.
Apparently the value of popularization and the rush to provide easy access to settler-colonial sources via the Internet were seen as greater values than accuracy, perspective or fairness. This seems a strange orientation for a University originated project. And, given that the originators have won awards for the project including this production, it calls into question the care taken in granting awards by otherwise seemingly respectable institutions.
While the martyrdom of Klatsassin and “The Chilcotin Chiefs” in one of Canada’s largest public executions is a touchstone of today’s Tsilhqot’in culture, the website’s treatment of this as a mere “cold case” in the country’s history is most unfortunate for the general public. The Tsilhqot’in draw a straight line from The Chilcotin War to their victory at the Supreme Court of Canada in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia. The named plaintiff there, Chief Roger William, is even a direct descendant of Klatsassin’s brother. Yet enquiring minds sent by Google or others to canadianmysteries.ca for information and understanding will be hard pressed to find this line there.
In the final result, the website is harmful rather than helpful for healing, restitution and reconciliation. As presently constituted, it is a disservice for teachers, students and the general public, and should not be recommended.
While documenting some of the website’s key weaknesses, this Review addresses several common misconceptions about this part of Tsilhqot’in/Canadian history, June 1861 to Sept. 1865. This includes an extended analysis of Tsilhqot’in leadership and policy in the Interior. In particular, it shows how the website misconstrues this to the detriment of understanding the Tsilhqot’in position.
The Review contains two attachments of background information presently unavailable from any other written source. One is an extended narrative integrating the written record and the oral tradition concerning the events in the Homathko corridor during the Chilcotin War. Continuing the struggle against admitted smallpox spreaders begun in June 1862, the Tsilhqot’in there undertook a preemptive strike to prevent settlers from introducing and spreading smallpox along a proposed road. The second is a narrative of the role played by the H.B.C.’s Fort Alexandria in Tsilhqot’in history, including The Chilcotin War.