Secwepemc History of Resistance
Secwepemc History of Resistance
Wii’nimkiikaa, Issue 2, 2005
The Secwepemc people’s resistance to colonization is rooted in their spirituality, which is based on the balance brought by the Creator and his helper, Coyote. The lessons handed down by the Coyote discouraged greed and disrespectful behaviour amongst the Secwepemc and reinforced the Secwepemc people’s connection to their land. But the invasion of European fur traders disrupted the balance of Secwepemc life, as it took time away from hunting, fishing and food gathering.
In 1812, David Stuart of the American Pacific Fur Company built Fort Shuswap at the site of the present-day town of Kamloops. That same year, Joseph Laroque of the Montreal-based North West Company established a trading post across the river from the fort, where the Kamloops reserve would later be established. These were the first colonial outposts within the territory of the Secwepemc Nation. The North West Company bought out American Pacific in 1813, and Fort Shuswap was renamed Fort Kamloops. By 1821, the North West Company was absorbed by the British Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The HBC further consolidated their control of Secwepemc territory with Fort Alexandria, opened in 1821, and Little Fort, built in 1851.
Under a Royal Charter, the HBC was responsible for trade regulations, settlement and governance. The company had the military backing of Royal Navy gunboats, while also maintaining its own security force. The wealthy businessmen of the HBC quickly established private enterprises such as mines, sawmills, and canneries, and sold land to settlers to pay for the construction of roads, ports and other infrastructure.
As animal populations declined, many Secwepemc became dependant on the fur trade for survival. Periods of starvation hit the Secwepemc in 1822, 1827, and throughout the 1840s and 1850s. Many Secwepemc children died in a 1927 whooping cough outbreak.
Throughout this phase of colonization, the HBC sent annual “gifts” of tobacco to Secwepemc chiefs to dissuade them from waging war on the company. These chiefs often became businessmen themselves. At least two Secwepemc chiefs saw the damage the fur trade was doing and urged a boycott. Secwepemc warriors took a direct approach, regularly attacking fur traders’ property and robbing Hudson’s Bay employees. In 1826, Fort Kamloops was burned to the ground by indigenous insurgents. It was rebuilt with a fence by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1843, only to come under renewed attacks.
In 1841, Samuel Black, the chief factor of Fort Kamloops, was killed by a Secwepemc named Kikoskin, who blamed Black for the death of his uncle, Chief Tranquille. The HBC then sought to impose British law on the Secwepemc by punishing Kikoskin, going so far as to steal Secwepemc horses and kidnap one of Kikoskin’s children, and attempting to persuade his fellow Secwepemc to turn him in. One person did eventually betray Kikoskin, leading to his capture, but Kikoskin somehow drowned before he was “brought to justice”. This incident lead to widespread Secwepemc resentment towards the Hudson’s Bay Company, since the Secwepemc considered themselves a free and independent people who were not subject to the laws of a foreign nation and occupying power. John Tod (who took Samuel Black’s place as chief factor) reported that his men were afraid to leave Fort Kamloops because Secwepemc warriors were shooting their horses. Secwepemc rebels also continued to rob HBC traders found on their territory.
In 1843, William Norwich, the chief factor of Fort Alexandria, was shot and killed by an indigenous insurgent, who was himself killed before he could escape. A Christian missionary arrived that same year, after the Secwepemc had suffered from three waves of disease epidemics (most likely diptheria). With starvation setting in again, the missionary found fertile ground for his work of assimilation. But Secwepemc resistance continued. Fur traders’ property was pillaged in 1851 and an HBC agent was killed the following year.
The Gold Rush of 1858 brought 30,000 American prospectors into the territories of the Secwepemc and other neighbouring indigenous peoples. The mainland of British Columbia was established as a colony that same year to solidify British control of the area. The Secwepemc clashed with gold miners, leading to deaths on both sides. At first, the Secwepemc were able to expel prospectors from areas along the Thompson River, but in 1859, some 400 British soldiers were brought in to crush the resistance. Some Secwepemc became miners, while others became capitalists, employing and exploiting other Natives. It was at this time that Secwepemc reserve boundaries were outlined by the colonial governor, James Douglas.
In 1862, a smallpox epidemic decimated the indigenous population of British Columbia. This came at a perfect time for the Hudson’s Bay Company, since it worked to quell indigenous insurgency just as settlement and capitalist industry was expanding. The company, in fact, actively promoted the spread of the disease by burning Native villages on Vancouver Island, forcing the survivors to flee to Native communities throughout the province. John Tod refused to vaccinate more then 70 Secwepemc until they delivered him a year’s supply of salmon. Smallpox was followed by epidemics of measles, influenza, whooping cough and tuberculosis, wiping out 70-75% of the Secwepemc population. Only 17 of the original 30 bands survived.
In 1864, the construction of a road for mining purposes in Tsilhqot’in territory provoked warriors to kill the road construction crew, along with five or six settlers. Five Tsilhqot’in chiefs were tricked into being captured, and were then sentenced to death. Chief William of the Secwepemc discouraged his people from supporting the Tsilhqot’in insurgency.
Also that year, Joseph Trutch became BC’s Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, and reduced reserve sizes by 92%. “The Indians have really no rights to the lands they claim, nor are they of any actual value or utility to them” said Trutch. “I cannot see why they should retain these lands to the prejudice of the general interests of the Colony, or be allowed to make a market of them either to Government or to individuals.”
Christian missionaries increasingly traveled through Secwepemc territory during this time, gathering converts, translating Christian songs into the Secwepemc language and building chapels and missions. In 1871, Christian day schools were established at Kamloops and St. Jospeh’s, south of Williams Lake. The colony of British Columbia became a province of Canada the same year. With the Indian Act of 1876, the Canadian government came to control all aspects of Secwepemc life. Band council governments were imposed and Christian residential schools became official colonial policy. A residential school was built on the Kamloops reservation in 1890, while another was set up at St. Joseph’s the following year. The Kamloops residential school operated until 1978.
By 1877, young Secwepemc and Okanagan rebels were arguing to band councils that armed warfare against the colonizers was once again necessary. Some had recently spent time amongst Nez Perce insurgents in the United States and had been inspired by their struggle. The rebels met in Okanagan territory to organize a confederacy and discuss tactics and strategy, but were undermined by the efforts of a Christian missionary who convinced the Adams Lake Band to not attend. Settlers feared an Indian uprising that never materialized.
A resurgence of resistance took place in the 1970s, including the occupation of the Department of Indian Affairs office in Kamloops and the armed highway blockade against poor housing conditions on the Bonaparte Indian Band reservation at Cache Creek in 1974. This time period was characterized by a rebirth of indigenous struggle all across North America, influenced by the American Indian Movement and the Lakota Nation’s stand at Wounded Knee.
In 1990, Secwepemc people blocked a road at Adams Lake and set up an informational roadblock on the Trans-Canada highway at Chase in solidarity with the armed Mohawk warriors defending Kanehsatake from a golf course expansion.
Another blockade at Adams Lake in the summer of 1995 stopped the development of a 60-unit Recreational Vehicle park development over a burial ground. The Adams River bridge was burned during the conflict.
Later in the summer of 1995, Secwepemc traditionalists at Gustafsen Lake (Ts’Peten) mounted an armed defence of a sun dance cermony from racist White ranchers who were threatening and intimidating those at the Sun Dance camp. This conflict spiraled into a month long siege of the camp by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). With military assistance and equipment, including land mines and nine armoured personnel carriers, 450 RCMP followed shoot-to-kill orders, using 70,000 rounds of ammunition against the Secwepemc defenders. A significant element of the RCMP’s strategy was tight control over the media to facilitate a “smear campaign” against the defenders, as described in RCMP training videos. Despite this, Mohawks in eastern Canada staged solidarity actions for the Secwepemc, including an occupation of the Department of Indian Affairs office in Brantford, Ontario. The Gustafsen Lake standoff was particularly important because of the defenders strong stance on asserting their indigenous sovereignty, their control of their territory and their independence from the bureaucracy of the Canadian state and its Indian Act band councils.
The standoff was followed by the year-long trial of the rebels, which exposed the RCMP’s media manipulation and inspired the Vancouver Native Youth Movement chapter to begin organizing against the BC Treaty Process. The trial ended in convictions for 13 defenders, with Wolverine receiving the longest sentence of four-and-a-half years.
In August of 2000, Secwepemc people held a demonstration at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office in Kamloops to support the Mi’kmaq of Burnt Church who were then struggling against White fishermen, (DFO) officers and the RCMP. The demonstration was also attended by Natives from Cheam and Penticton. In September, Adams Lake and Neskonlith band members blocked the Canadian Pacific Railway for three hours in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq.
October of 2000 marked the beginning of the campaign against the Sun Peaks ski resort, which encompasses three mountains and several lakes. This sacred territory is known as Skelkwek’welt and has always provided the Secwepemc with a variety of plant and animal food sources. Many Secwepemc ancestors are buried in the area. The campaign against the destruction caused by Sun Peaks has included the building of homes and cultural structures at the site, roadblocks, and occuppations of government offices. More than 50 arrests were made over the course of four years, and several Secwepemc homes and structures were bulldozed or burnt down by Sun Peaks employees and supporters, with the complicity of the RCMP. Throughout this time, various solidarity demonstrations for the Secwepemc held in Vancouver and Toronto targeted the Delta Hotels chain, which is a major player in the Sun Peaks resort.
In 1997, the Indian Act chiefs of eight Secwepemc bands signed a Protocol Agreement with thge Sun Peaks resort. In 2001, Felix Arnouse, chief of the Little Shuswap band, and Richard LeBourdais, chief of the Whispering Pines band, signed a joint venture agreement with Sun Peaks for an $8 million dollar housing development. “We have to seize every opportunity to work with Sun Peaks if we want to succeed as a band and as a business,” said Arnouse, who also complained during the 1995 Adams Lake blockade that the action was costing him business.
An RCMP Emergency Response Team raided the homes of Native Youth Movement members on the Secwepemc Neskonlith reserve and at Bella Coola in Nuxalk territory in 2003, seizing computers and files.
In August of 2004, traditional Secwepemc built a new re-occupation camp at the Sun Peaks Resort, after a march through the resort village by about 200 Natives and non-Native supporters of the Secwepemc struggle. A court injuction against the camp occupants was enforced on September 21, resulting in three arrests. One Skwelkwek’welt defender gave his name and was released. Two others refused to give their names and began fasting, but another prisoner recognized one of them and gave his name to the police. Crown counsel eventually decided to not proceed with the contempt charges against the three defenders. Solidarity pickets were held on September 23 at Delta and Fairmont Hotels (Delta is owned by Fairmont) in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Montreal
The Sun Peaks Resort is in the midst of its $285 million dollar Phase 2 development, which will add 6,000 bed units. Darcy Alexander, vice president of Sun Peaks, also sits on the BC government’s Resorts Taskforce, which is working to advertise BC’s existing resorts and promote new development throughout the province.
“Getting in on the ground floor is always a little adventurous. It means you see something that others initially overlook. And we believe that this pioneering spirit should be celebrated.” – Sun Peaks Resort real estate advertisement, January, 2004
Sources: A Century of Change, by Annabel Cropped Eared Wolf (Secwepemc Cultural Education Society) The First Hundred Years of Contact, by John Coffey (Secwepemc Cultural Education Society) Coyote U (Theytus Books)