The Smallpox War Against the Haida reviews the written record as it reflects on the widespread teaching among the Peoples concerned that Governor James Douglas oversaw an intentional mass killing during 1862/63 using smallpox as a tool.
After the Book was completed, BC’s formal adoption in 2019 of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples imposed a new legal duty on educators and public officials to treat native histories with dignity and to reflect those histories in educational and other public information. On considering that this new development imposed a duty of knowledge on a wider audience, we added a summary of the case against Douglas as it concerns the Haida entitled Postscript – Closing the Colonial Era to The Smallpox War Against the Haida.
This Postscript has been reprinted below. Sources for this material can be found where each detail first appears in the book’s narrative flow, and where there are 900 footnotes. For those interested in learning more, The Smallpox War Against the Haida can be purchased here.
Transcending the condition of colonialism maintained by Canada in BC since 1871 will require a conversation between the original Peoples who have not been destroyed as communal entities and the immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who were victimized by fraud when Canada invited them to settle in native territories where the Crown has no treaties and its legitimacy has been tainted.
Any Canadian from whom the fact has been withheld that perhaps 90 percent of all the Haida died between May of 1862 and Feb. of 1863 in smallpox epidemics facilitated by the Douglas administration could be forgiven for seeing BC’s founding as a routine event in which native authority shriveled away innocently over generations and the Crown asserted control peacefully in a sovereign void. Canadians in this class inevitably are surprised to learn that their native compatriots see BC’s founding as indelibly marked by cruelty, injustice, violence and terror.
Reconciliation usually begins only after a perpetrator has accepted the fact of a wrongful harm. But where does that path even begin when native historians convey the teaching of their ancestors who had access to eye-witness evidence that Douglas perpetrated a smallpox assisted genocide and Canadian historians teach, on the basis of evidence in a written record that was mostly controlled by the alleged perpetrators, that serious people would hold Douglas blameless and, even further, would endorse the practice of censoring the native narrative so that it did not appear educational and public information?
Yet, there has been some progress. In 2014, the Crown accepted the Tsilhqot’in teaching that colonizers spread smallpox intentionally in that territory. In 2019, BC adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. BC’s law imposes a new duty on educators and public officials to treat the histories told by natives with dignity and to reflect those histories in educational or other public information.
Article 15: Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity of their… histories…which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Denying the smallpox genocide described in such native histories as The Story of Bones Bay seems inconsistent with a duty of dignity. Indeed, Canada’s Supreme Court notes that genocide denial can be a form of hate propaganda.
The manner in which BC was founded is not yet just a cold case of mere academic interest. The Crown’s improper assertion of control in BC has left Canada with a need to address: a) the issue of compensation for the loss of enjoyment of aboriginal title – where the Crown has several ongoing negotiations and is searching for a settlement formula; and, b) the issue of reparations for various People’s loss of opportunity for growth as nations through the displacement of aboriginal authority. The extra-colonial reconciliation process that preceded the colonial era included reparations. Negotiating this issue would symbolize an end to the colonial era.
In this light, it may be useful to summarize the evidence of genocide documented here. And to address the lines that colonial apologists may take in arguing for Douglas’ exoneration. Serious people would acknowledge that Douglas’ 1862 smallpox policies violated the ordinary standards of British law as the law concerned the behavior of people with smallpox carriers in their custody and that his administration’s actions increased the native death toll. Apologists are left to contend, then, that Douglas increased the death toll only through: a) negligence; b) a callous indifference toward the fate of what the British regarded as an inferior race; or, c) emergency measures implemented to save the colonial community from an existential threat caused by the susceptibility to smallpox of natives living in close contact with colonists.
Mere negligence? A callous indifference to native life?
A) Signs of bureaucratic direction in the disease’s appearance.
Any evidence that the colonists imported the disease knowingly is inconsistent with every other narrative but intentional spreading. Yet, the evidence includes multiple signs pointing to bureaucratic direction and to planning in the disease’s arrival. This evidence includes:
- George T. Dawson’s disclosures based on inside information – information that proved to be reliable in its other particulars – already implied that, in order to attack the Haida with smallpox, Douglas first had to have arranged for the disease to be imported.
- A second insider, John Sheepshanks, said without qualification that the colonists “imported” the disease in 1862. Sheepshanks was positioned to have been an informed source and it is very likely that he knew precisely how the disease did arrive. Like Poole, Sheepshanks lied in real time and in his memoir with the effect of concealing his own role in spreading the disease during the 1862 epidemics.
- Two carriers served as agents for importing the disease. One carrier introduced the disease at Victoria in the Colony of Vancouver Island. The second carrier introduced the disease simultaneously at New Westminster in the Colony of British Columbia. The fact that two carriers arrived on the same boat and then distributed the disease to the administrative centers of two separate colonies is consistent with the recognition of a political need to keep the colonies on an equal footing.
- Each of the original carriers had only a mild infection. This fact is consistent with each having been inoculated for the purpose of importing the disease. Parliament had outlawed inoculation in 1840 because of the ease with which people undergoing the procedure could become a source of epidemics. There is extensive evidence of the use of inoculation to advance the disease during the 1862 epidemics and the evidence associated with the disease’s arrival is the first such sign.
- The colonists with the opportunity to have imported the disease included men acting as official agents for the Colonies in arranging for the boat on which they and the smallpox carriers were travelling to be subsidized by the Crown as a part of George Cary’s plan to boost traffic along a Bentinck Arm toll road of which he would be a large personal beneficiary. Those arriving on the same boat as the smallpox carriers included Ranald McDonald. McDonald was: a) part of Douglas’ HBC circle; b) one of Francis Poole’s future employers as a director for BAC alongside MLAs Robert Burnaby and Attorney General George Cary; c) present in the killing fields as part of the party marking BAC’s route where Poole laid down a “sorrowful trail of blood”; and, d) someone who was positioned to profit personally and handsomely from Poole’s “trail of blood.”
- Exactly coincident with the disease’s importation, anonymous sources planted false information in the newspapers at San Francisco and Victoria with the apparent objective of creating a mistaken public impression that the disease was epidemic at San Francisco and that the disease’s arrival at Victoria was to be expected in the normal course. This planted information would be the first installment in a pattern of creating false impressions that had the effect of obscuring the reason for an acceleration in the disease’s spread. Deliberately creating false impressions and following a pattern of behavior are each separate indicators of intention.
B) Signs of intentionally perverting a control measure. Part one.
After the disease’s arrival, Douglas became informed without any delay. He proved his knowledge of the appropriate public health measures: a pest house to isolate those with the infection and mass vaccinations among those at risk.
With regard to a pest house, Douglas made a public show of asking the Assembly for funding of $400. This display was unnecessary. Douglas had authority to act in the public interest where time was of the essence. In fact, the amount required for the construction of a pest house was so small that the Anglican Church eventually filled the obvious void by building a pest house through donations and its own petty cash. After Bishop Hills shamed Douglas for inaction, Douglas replenished the Church with $100 from his own pocket. However, Douglas’ original unnecessary public notice fostered a false perception of timely action when Douglas actually did nothing when isolating carriers still was possible and when this intervention would have had the greatest chance of success. The harm of unchecked spreading flowing from Douglas’ inaction might be attributed to miscommunication, negligence or indifference. But, all told, Douglas’ behavior was most consistent with the presence of a public relations program that would be revealed through a pattern of visibly pretending good intentions while actually seeing the disease spread.
C) Signs of intentionally perverting a control measure. Part two.
After the colonial government assumed control over Rev. Garrett’s “Indian Hospital,” the Police Commissioner ran this institution. The Commissioner supplied food but no medicine or medical services. Rather than systematically isolating infected natives at the “Indian Hospital” in line with the purpose of a pest house, the police chased infected natives to move at random in the extra-colonial zone.
To administer the “Indian Hospital,” the Commissioner supplied a carpenter to build coffins and bury the dead. The commissioner then swore in the carpenter as a constable and charged him with inspecting natives who wished to enter the town for their certificates from white employers. The Commissioner also created a certification program under which “Indian” women living with colonists or selling services could be certified to remain in the Victoria and Esquimalt area. Observers soon reported that the carpenter was a smallpox carrier; apparently, with a mild case that did not keep him from work. While infectious, the carpenter/constable would have exposed every native that he approached for a certificate of eligibility to remain behind.
Apologists who would portray the Douglas administration’s operation of the “Indian Hospital” as merely a product of negligence or indifference would be able to do so only by withholding evidence. And it is disingenuous to pretend, as Dr. Helmcken did in his memoir, that there was some equity between the services available to native victims housed in this “hospital” compared with those enjoyed by “white” victims in the administration’s other hospitals. The bottom line is that the Police Commissioner’s operation of the “Indian Hospital” was most consistent with an intention to set conditions that would increase the disease’s spread.
D) Signs of intentionally perverting a control measure. Part three.
Douglas invited a selection of Northerners and Songhees to attend a public health session where he would extol the virtues of vaccination and Dr. Helmcken would demonstrate – at the Crown’s expense – the procedure. After this event, any Northerners who wished to become vaccinated may have believed that Douglas had laid out a process in which they were invited to visit Dr. Helmcken for vaccination at the Crown’s expense.
In late April, the Douglas administration advertised that Dr. Helmcken had vaccinated 500 natives. This notice created a false illusion of good faith. Multiple sources immediately began reporting that some noticeable portion of natives so “vaccinated” became disease carriers. This means that many natives who sought out Helmcken with the expectation that they and their communities would be protected then carried the disease into their communities – all of which, except the Tsimshian, had been disease free up to the time that Helmcken performed these procedures. Within 10 days of the notice creating this false impression of good faith, the disease went from being confined to one community to being in seemingly every Northerner community.
American sources familiar with the failure of Helmcken’s program suggested gross or criminal negligence as the explanation. If it was true as claimed that the Douglas administration’s highest medical official personally performed a procedure on 500 natives, then this fact leaves little room for an argument of indifference. At the same time – with Helmcken’s prior regard for natives as inferior beings presenting an inconvenient nuisance – it seems too-good-to-be-true that the administration’s highest medical official did not delegate any part of this onerous program with a routine procedure.
The evidence is perfectly consistent, however, with the native narrative and with a conclusion that Douglas and Helmcken set up the Northerners with a promise of vaccination so that Helmcken could execute a selective inoculation program with the intention of spreading the disease as widely as possible in preparation for the Northerners’ forcible expulsion. Moreover, since the evidence is that the usual movement of natives had not spread the disease to even one additional People in the weeks prior to the disclosure of Helmcken’s program, that program is the only agency available to explain its sudden jump to seemingly every Northerner community.
E) Signs of using smallpox as a political tool.
Rev. Garrett created a pest house on the Reserve. Burying the dead was one of the usual disease control functions of a pest house. When Garrett asked the Police Commissioner for assistance with burying infected bodies as a control measure, the Commissioner refused on the ground that his office did not have jurisdiction to act on the Reserve. Reducing the public risk from smallpox was a normal function of British police. Yet, in June of 1860, Douglas had served notice that the Crown was assuming jurisdiction for public health among all of the extra-colonial communities; i.e. not excluding those operating from the Reserve. Moreover, since June of 1860, the constitutional practice had become that, although the extra-colonial communities variously signaled that they would withhold their general submission for rule by the Crown, the colonial authorities had the authority to act where the Crown had consent for a particular policy. The Commissioner’s refusal on the ground of jurisdiction seems intended to send a message about unconditional submission. His action was inconsistent with a general intention of good faith.
F) Signs of intentionally maximizing the harm from expulsions.
The Douglas administration did not begin forcibly expelling the Northerner communities and then continue non-stop until its objective has been achieved. Instead, the administration carried out expulsions at two-week intervals. Since new smallpox victims become infectious only after 10 days, this interval tended to maximize the number of new sources of infection being sent along the water highway and into the home territories. The Haida would have been affected especially since they were targeted three times: May 10 to 14, May 26 and June 11.
Apologists arguing negligence or indifference must suppose that this dangerous interval occurred only by chance. Alternatively, any program executed by starting and stopping only to resume two weeks later, and then again after another two weeks, also seems inconsistent with a theory that the Douglas administrations ordered the expulsions only in a panic during a perceived emergency. People in a “panic” during an “emergency” do not start and stop at their leisure. However, a choice of timing and the selection of a significant interval would be perfectly typical features of a prepared plan.
G) Signs of intentionally advancing the disease. Part one.
When the Douglas administration began expelling the Northerners, the Police Commissioner created a false illusion that infected communities would be moved to isolation in sanctuaries on the Gulf Islands. Such a public health policy would have honored British law as it concerned managing the custody of disease carriers. Such a plan also would have given the Northerners comfort that moving would not put them at risk from their enemies and that they could obtain food and water without putting at risk their allies or home communities.
In reality, the Douglas administration expelled the Northerners to move at random among other autonomous natives along the water highway – friend or foe – and in their home territories. At Cadboro Bay, the Haida, essentially, had created their own sanctuary. They were controlling the disease with a “hospital tent” and attention to disposing of bodies. Yet, the Commissioner ordered an expulsion over the protest of the Haida. Then, rather than sending the sick to the “Indian Hospital” under his control, the Commissioner compelled the sick and healthy Haida to travel in the same canoes.
H) Signs of intentionally advancing the disease. Part two.
Not only did the Police Commissioner force this convoy onto the water highway, he accompanied it in a gunboat. When the Commissioner accompanied the Haida expelled from Cadboro Bay through Cowichan territory, some Cowichan fired on the gunboat to prevent sources of infection from being left among them. This seems a reasonable precaution since the gunboat did leave behind sources of infection at Nanaimo, contrary to British law. Apologists must contend that blatantly leaving sources of infection along the way was only from negligence or indifference. This contention lacks the credibility to reach a standard of reasonable doubt.
I) Signs of using the disease as a tool for punishment.
The Police Commissioner advertised that a gunboat would accompany the Haida expelled on June 11 to protect them from their enemies. This convoy contained Edenshaw and, apparently, the last of the Outpost Haida who did not have canoes to evacuate when first ordered. Instead of protecting the Haida, the Commissioner abandoned them at the doorstep of the same enemies where, in May of 1861, a gunboat had allowed Capt. Jefferson’s convoy to rearm itself to stave off attack. The Commissioner’s action came to nothing in June of 1862 because these enemies already had attacked an infected Haida convoy and were dying themselves.
Little in the Commissioner’s handling of the June 11 expulsion is suggestive of negligence, indifference or panic in an emergency. The Outpost Haida had led native resistance to Douglas’ policies. Edenshaw had led the Haida’s embarrassment of Douglas in the release of Capt. Jefferson and the failure of the “Indian police.” The Commissioner’s actions were most consistent with a plan for punishing the Haida by providing some enemies of the Haida with an opportunity to kill Edenshaw and the Outpost Haida. It would have been of no concern that this convoy might not carry smallpox past Cape Mudge since many other opportunities already had done that work and even more opportunities, such as that provided by QCMC’s presence on Haida Gwaii, already were in play.
J) Signs of intentionally advancing the disease. Part three.
BAC’s May 21 expedition headed by Francis Poole – under the direction of MLAs Attorney General George Cary and Robert Burnaby, in conjunction with a syndicate laden with HBC managers and guided in the field by company director Ranald McDonald, an HBC insider favored by Douglas with a charter for this toll road – knowingly carried the disease from Victoria along BAC’s coastal route to the interior. Poole left a self-described “sorrowful trail of blood” among the Nuxalk and Tsilhqot’in. The evidence is that Poole’s party distributed the disease systematically, including at locations where his principals or their associates had created the usual conditions for an “Indian war” by preparing to seize strategic locations under native villages.
There is little other way to describe Poole’s smallpox spreading activities but to say that he had been: a) licensed to extend the disease into new localities; b) instructed in the means of dissemination; and c) coached on how to explain what would otherwise be crimes. Any evidence that the Douglas administration licensed disease spreading contradicts every theory of negligence, indifference or panic in an emergency.
An excusable panic in an emergency?
Did Douglas increase the native death toll in 1862 only as a tragic collateral effect of measures implemented in a panic with the intention of saving the colonial community during a state of emergency? This theory admits that the Douglas administration’s 1862/63 smallpox policies violated British law, but the claim is that Douglas should be exonerated because those unlawful actions, even if they might have been ill-considered, were taken in good faith during an emergency. Was there an emergency?
This argument presupposes that: a) the disease arrived by chance; b) Douglas genuinely attempted a standard British public health policy for controlling smallpox among the Northerners; c) the disease did not outrun the usual controls because of colonial negligence or bad faith but only because of native susceptibility; d) the colonial community panicked when it became existentially imperiled after the disease exploded among the Northerner communities; e) the harm attributable to the Douglas administration was limited to its expulsion orders; f) there was no evidence of the administration otherwise causing or licensing the disease’s advance from Victoria; and g) the apprehension of an emergency can permit officials to target identifiable groups with measures otherwise indistinguishable from genocide.
The evidence already shows that most of the elements in this chain of pre-conditions do not hold. What about “emergency” and “panic”?
In 1860, Douglas had shown his awareness of the doctrine based in Roman law that a state of emergency could justify violating the law, government policy or the scope of an agent’s authority. At that time, he had invoked the presence of an emergency to justify not following British policy of non-interference with native self-governance or of making consensual arrangements through treaties in an attempt: a) to impose through “non-gentle means” new constitutions substituting the Crown as the ultimate sovereign authority for native communities; and, b) to organize native “nations” for rule through an “Indian police” controlled by colonial officials. Yet, the “emergency” that Douglas had claimed as justifying his excesses against native communities in 1860 had been no more than some predictable unrest among the Northerners as the colonial authorities attempted to extend the Crown’s reach in the extra-colonial zone occupied by autonomous native communities. It is noteworthy, then, that the supposed “emergency” of 1862 followed the same pattern. This second “emergency,” too, was a product of the Douglas administration’s own making: namely, Douglas’ “failed” pest house program and Helmcken’s “failed” vaccination program. So, even at the barest minimum, the administration did not have the “clean hands” usually required when pleading to be excused for violations of law, policy, authority or not protecting the Crown’s honor.
Yet, the evidence is not just that the Douglas administration failed the minimum condition. Instead, the evidence is that the administration did what it could to manufacture a sense of emergency as the means for justifying a cruel and criminal policy. It is extremely unlikely that MLA Robert Burnaby, who counted as personal friends the two highest officers of the law in the colonies – Attorney General George Cary and Attorney General Henry Crease – simply by chance coached Francis Poole to advance the emergency argument as the explanation for his unlawful smallpox spreading activities along the Bentinck Arm Rd. It was too clever by half when silence would have been more serviceable. A review of the circumstances in the Nuxalk and Tsilhqot’in territories shows the emergency argument to have been absurd in that context, but the fact that Burnaby guided Poole to structure a false narrative in this way is consistent with Burnaby having heard his legal contacts discuss the argument’s advantages before Poole set out on May 21. Poole did not just extend Douglas’ smallpox policies from Victoria, he also extended the argument intended to cover the crime.
Then, as to a possible panicky demand for action from the colonial community, the evidence consists principally of editorials appearing in The British Colonist at Victoria on Apr. 28, to be repeated a week later, and in The British Columbian at New Westminster on May 3. Yet, the Colonist had interviewed the Police Commissioner just prior to its editorial and Douglas had a similar opportunity to have been the source of inspiration for the Columbian’s editorial in New Westminster. These editorials appeared: a) while some colonists believed that the disease still might be confined to the Tsimshian at Victoria; that is, b) before the sudden explosion of disease to seemingly every Northerner community in the wake of Helmcken’s “vaccination” program; and, c) after the Police Commissioner already had begun implementing the expulsion policy. The better explanation of the evidence, then, is not that these editorials inspired Douglas to violate the law because of a perceived emergency but that his administration inspired the editorials to marshal public support for a pre-determined plan to violate the law by forcing native communities to advance the disease from Victoria.
In addition, there are these considerations:
- After the editorials appeared, Bishop Hills interviewed Douglas. Hills did not detect any sense of panic or concern consistent with the apprehension of an emergency. On the contrary, he commented, the Government seems very minor in taking measures. Officials coping with an emergency or with a public panic usually manifest visible concern.
- If native susceptibility had been a driving concern, expelling natives from within the confines of Victoria would have been Douglas’ first move. The expulsion policy began on April 29. But the Police Commissioner did not order natives removed from the town itself until the third expulsion in late May/early June.If native susceptibility had been a driving concern, then, after the final expulsion in June, noticeable numbers of natives willing to be governed by British law or providing what the colonial authorities apparently perceived as the essential service of female companionship would not have been permitted to remain.
- If native susceptibility had been a driving concern, then natives who had been vaccinated but who did not wish to give up their native citizenship – like Bishop Hills’ servant Arthur – still would have been permitted to remain.
- If native susceptibility had been a driving concern, the Police Commissioner would not have put in charge of inspecting natives for their various certificates a constable who became a disease carrier and risked spreading the disease in his work.
- If the Commissioner could create certificates permitting access to the town for natives employed by whites and for native women under several headings, then he could have created certificates permitting access for those vaccinated by Dr. Helmcken. Of course, if disease control was not the true purpose of Helmcken’s program, then issuing certificates only would have called attention to that program’s noticeable failure rate.
- If there had been a perception of an emergency, the expulsions would have been executed all at once rather than at two-week intervals.
- If there had been a perception of an emergency, the Police Commissioner would not have refused to bury infected bodies.
- Even supposing that there had been the perception of a disease control emergency, the newspapers arguing for expulsions imagined that such a policy would be designed to limit the movement of carriers; and, thereby, to satisfy British law.
- The actual risk perceived by the newspapers was not existential. It was the risk of an economic recession if prospective settlers stayed away from the British colonies because ordinary people prefer not to witness suffering and death. In reality, the North Pacific colonists had no perception of an existential disease control emergency for the obvious reason that most non-natives had been vaccinated and vaccine was readily available for the rest.
Understanding Douglas’ policy as an instance of genocide.
The United Nations defines the crime of genocide as killing or deliberately inflicting conditions of life with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such. The Story of Bones Bay teaches that Douglas used smallpox to inflict conditions of life calculated to reduce the Haida until their political – i.e. their national – presence no longer posed a meaningful barrier to the Crown’s assertion of control over the Haida and Haida Gwaii.
Juries resolve issues of intention by weighing: motive, patterns of behavior, acts preceding the offense, the manner of the harmful deed, acts taking place after the deed and whether the accused’s statements were truthful or deceitful. The written record tends to corroborate the native narrative that the harm caused by Douglas’ unlawful smallpox policies was intentional and not from negligence, indifference or panic in an emergency.
In 1861, Douglas said that North Pacific natives had “distinct ideas about property in land.” As a result, he said, if the Crown began asserting control over land without some prior arrangement, the People concerned would see this as a “national wrong.” “Nations” in this sense are the source of organization, leadership, warriors and alliances for answering “national wrongs” with “Indian wars.”
In Douglas’ analysis of the colonist’s options for extending the Crown’s reach into territories still under the control of native “nations” American-style “Indian wars” were desperate measures to be avoided until all other measures had been exhausted. At the same time, Douglas ruled out the possibility that persuasion or “gentle means” might be successful. Douglas’ analysis left him with a range of initiatives for avoiding “Indian wars” that included: instilling a sufficient terror that native communities would be too fearful of British authority to answer “national wrongs” with “Indian wars”; targeted violence calculated not to provoke wider wars; and, “unjust and cruel measures” managed so as to reduce the risk of “Indian wars.”
In 1859 and in 1860, Douglas confirmed the constitutional status quo under which the Crown respected the established extra-colonial conventions for relations between North Pacific “nations.” Under these conventions, the British “nation” and each Haida “nation” were equal and did not interfere in each other’s internal affairs.
On Haida Gwaii, in 1859, the Skidegate and Gold Harbor Haida “nations” ejected British mining endeavors over concern about the willingness of these endeavors to operate under Haida regulation. In 1862, “nations” represented by Ninstints and Gitkun licensed QCMC to begin mining under Haida regulation.
Then, in 1863, Gitkun, the Skidegate Haida, the Gold Harbor Haida and other Haida leaders signaled to Douglas their suspension of resistance to British operations on Haida Gwaii acting outside regulation by the host “nations.” This changed disposition came after the dramatic collapse of the Haida population in 1862/63.
The beginning of the trail leading to the Haida’s change of behavior can be traced to Mar. of 1860. At that time, Douglas began his attempt to assert control over the Haida by weakening their leadership and offering to empower those who would be willing to collaborate in the imposition of a new constitution where political authority was to be administered by an “Indian police” accountable to the Crown. The motive for a policy of genocide while displacing indigenous authority and its timeline, then, was as follows:
- In Mar. of 1860, the Police Commissioner began implementing Douglas’ plan by asserting jurisdiction to make arrests within a Haida community. The Haida instantly expelled the colonial police.
- In Apr. of 1860, some Songhees assassinated “Geesh” – the Haida hyas tyee at Rock Bay. Colonial developers wanted Geesh’s community moved so Victoria could expand onto the Haida’s space. The Haida believed the colonists sponsored Geesh’s assassination.
- In Apr. of 1860, Douglas visited a council of hyas tyee and delivered notice to the Haida of the Crown’s intention to assert control. Douglas persuaded the Haida and other Northerner communities settling at Rock Bay to allow the destruction of their housing and to relocate on the Reserve. When Douglas failed to deliver on promises that he made to those leaving Rock Bay voluntarily in 1860, the Haida and other Northerners would reoccupy it.
- In May of 1860, the colonial authorities began interfering in the freedom of all natives living in the Victoria area by setting a curfew and requiring certificates from white employers.
- In June of 1860, Douglas summoned all of the Northerner hyas tyee to deliver his first dictate as he began attempting to assume total control of the extra-colonial zone. The Northerners were to rent land from the Crown, build European-style homes in European-style subdivisions and pay a poll tax to support an “Indian police” accountable to the Crown.
- Within days, the Outpost Haida signaled their “resistance” to Douglas’ plan. Douglas launched an assault on the Haida Outpost.
- On July 2, 1860, the Police Commissioner lured Capt. John – the Haida hyas tyee at the Outpost – into colonial custody where he was killed while refusing to recognize the Crown’s right to arrest him. Capt. John’s death rewarded a Tongass “nation” for providing the example of a native community voluntarily using the British system.
- Douglas weakened the hyas tyee by ordering newly arriving Northerners to store the arms needed for their self-defense with the Police Commissioner rather than with their own hyas tyee.
- In Sept. of 1860, the colonial authorities asserted control over the Gold Harbor Haida by refusing them their customary location.
- In Jan. of 1861, the colonial authorities jailed the blind Haida hyas tyee Paul Jones, co-founder of the Outpost, and his caretakers on a charge of shoplifting.
- In May of 1861, the colonial authorities escalated their level of aggression against the Haida when a colonial gunboat shelled a Haida convoy after it refused a colonial magistrate’s unprecedented claim to have jurisdiction over incidents that took place in Cowichan territory or on the high seas.
- The colonial authorities held in jail on trumped up charges Capt. Jefferson of Skidegate, the distinguished leader of the shelled Haida convoy and some of his cohorts.
- In July of 1861, under pressure from colonists over his failure to reduce the political presence projected by the Northerners, Douglas summoned the hyas tyee to institute his plan for an “Indian police.”
- Undoubtedly under pressure to secure Capt. Jefferson’s release, Capt. John’s replacement among the Outpost Haida, Edenshaw, took a leading role in Douglas’ “Indian police.”
- The “Indian police” began operations on July 20, 1861. The extra-colonial zone around Victoria immediately assumed a never before seen state of decorum. The new seeming subservience of these native communities filled the colonists with hope that Douglas had solved the “Indian question.” The colonial authorities released Capt. Jefferson on Aug. 6. Within hours, Edenshaw and other Haida leaders began withdrawing from the “Indian police.” The lynchpin of Douglas’ vision for extending the Crown’s reach by co-opting native leaders had failed after just two weeks. All things remaining equal, there was little real prospect that Haida leaders would assist with subjugation of their People. Douglas can only have experienced being outwitted by the Haida in this way as an embarrassing personal humiliation.
- As of Aug. 1861, Douglas’ original strategy for extending the Crown’s reach had failed. Meanwhile, an increasing flood of colonists was increasing the risk of “Indian wars.”
- Thirteen months before, Douglas had tried to manipulate the Northerners into vacating the extra-colonial zone around Victoria by lying about an imminent outbreak of measles. The Northerners had called his bluff. However, Douglas and his advisers were certain to have learned from this occasion that the Northerners would not flee even in the case of an actual disease outbreak. They would remain and expect to benefit from the same controls as the non-native community. So, in precisely the right window six months before the appearance of smallpox in Mar. of 1862, Douglas had the right intelligence, incentive and opportunity for planning its introduction and distribution as he changed his strategy for extending the Crown’s reach from co-opting native leaders to reducing the autonomous native population.
- In Sept. of 1861, Douglas notified the Northerners that he would begin enforcing his threat to subject communities refusing rule by the Crown to the “injustice and cruelty” of forcible expulsions. Douglas’ use of forcible ejections in Sept. of 1861 already contemplated creating conditions of life in which the expellees would be at a risk of death. So, the Douglas administration already had begun intentionally creating conditions of life that would put innocent natives at a risk of death precisely in the window where decisions would have been made in the case of a plan to import smallpox and see to its spread.
- In Mar. of 1862, the colonial community imported smallpox.
- The Douglas administration then implemented three supposed disease control measures: pest houses, vaccinations and expulsions. All three measures would fail not only as controls, but in ways that increased the native death toll. Nor were the failures a result of actions by minor officials, but from the intervention of senior officials.
- In addition, colonists who advanced the disease from Victoria either had official sponsorship, like Poole’s endeavors, or an implicit license to violate British law without fear of punishment.
- Finally, the colonial authorities and others who proved to have inside knowledge generated a pattern of false public impressions, including to do with: the disease’s arrival, the use of pest houses, the application of vaccine, expulsions to sanctuaries and Poole’s activities in the Nuxalk, Tsilhqot’in and Haida territories. Patterns of behavior typically are evidence of forethought and intentional behavior.
In sum, during 1860, Douglas began attempting to assert control over the Haida communities represented in an extra-colonial zone surrounding Victoria. Douglas began by targeting uncooperative Haida leaders with death or proof of their weakness while hoping to co-opt any leaders who might be willing to enforce British rule. By Aug. of 1861, Douglas’ strategy had produced only failure. So, having tried and failed to overcome Haida authority and autonomy through lesser violence, as of the fall of 1861, Douglas had a specific motive for overcoming the barrier to colonialism represented by autonomous Peoples. Rather than exonerating Douglas unequivocally, the written record consistently corroborates The Story of Bones Bay in its teaching concerning a smallpox genocide.
The Story of Bones Bay also teaches that colonial communities may include people uninfected by the colonial spirit. The Story exists only because Mr. George T. Dawson honored his community’s true values to subvert Douglas’ policy of cruelty. The Story also points to the natural root of civility in the generosity of healthy strangers: for Dawson made a gift of knowledge without the People concerned ever having to submit for rule by the Crown. Gifts may create a sense of moral obligation. “Terror” does not.
Today, many Canadians genuinely support seeking reconciliation. Yet, people intending good faith may support harmful policies because of their innocence or ignorance of Canadian imperialism. In these circumstances, native caution is understandable – for, instead of expressions arising from a healthy desire to close the colonial era, these expressions easily might be a whole team of Trojan Horses for renewing the colonial era.
The original British colonists rooted the Crown’s moral legitimacy in the North Pacific in some supposed superiority of “Western Civilization.” Yet, that tradition does not prize “might is right,” delusions of ethno-supremacy or “survival of the fittest.” It prizes persuasion, individual virtue, restraint, humility in knowledge and relentless curiosity about the human condition. It treats the search for truth as sacred. It regards facing the ugliest truths as a high virtue. “Western Civilization” also recognizes the value in lifting the burden of historical pollutions that weigh on a community’s decorum, as the Athenians twice reburied the dead at Delos. In that light, there seems little reason not to make history by accepting The Story of Bones Bay and similar traditions as essential elements in any acceptable narrative of BC’s history. And, thereby, to begin lifting the burden of an “unjust and cruel” legacy from all of our children.