Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Terry Glavin on British Columbia history

PM Trudeau and Tsilhqot'in representatives
Writer Terry Glavin, always an interesting -- and unpredictable -- writer on British Columbia and much else, has a recent couple of notable pieces of historical journalism in Maclean's, where he is a contributor.

One is a solid backgrounder on the Chilcotin/Tsilhqot’in war of 1864, which led to the hanging of six First Nations leaders Lhats’as?in, Biyil, Tilaghed, Taqed, Chayses, and Ahan. This was the event for which the government of Canada formally apologized in the Canadian Parliament.
The shame and disgrace at the heart of the Chilcotin War’s legacy occurred shortly after 8 a.m. on Aug. 15, 1864, when the war leader Lhats’as?in and several of his comrades agreed to enter the encampment of William Cox, the leader of an expeditionary force of several dozen armed men dispatched by the just-appointed Governor Frederick Seymour, to talk truce. Instead, Lhats’as?in and his warriors were arrested and put in chains.
Seeking a little background on the Chilcotin war at the time of the apology, I was taken aback by how little standard references -- from Wikipedia to the Canadian Encyclopedia  -- had to say. If you still need some of the details behind the apology, this story by Glavin and Maclean's is a place to start.

The other Glavin story covers the remarkable discovery of a set of preserved footprints in Heiltsuk territory on Calvert Island on the west coast of British Columbia.  The 29 footprints, apparently of a man, woman, and child, have been determined to be 13,000 years old. Footprints!

These prints now become part of the growing body of evidence sustaining the theory that movements along the then ice-choked British Columbia coast were among the very earliest human presence in the Americas. Glavin tells the story well.  I was sorry, however, that he framed it as a conflict: the suggestive wisdom of indigenous traditions about early presence against the ignorance of pigheaded scientists.

In fact, the Simon Fraser University archaeologist Knut Fladmark has been arguing for decades that a coastal migration down the west coast of North America, almost certainly using small boats and relying on marine resources  (for an analogy, consider the adaptation of the Inuit to the glacier-bound coasts of Greenland and the Canadian north) was more plausible as a first entry route than the "ice-free corridor" route east of the Rockies. I interviewed Fladmark 25 years ago on the subject, and advances in underwater archaeology, geology, and glaciology continue to shore up his arguments.

So there has been convergence rather than than conflict between indigenous knowledge and scientific thinking for quite a while on this question.  Still, a couple of interesting and well-sourced pieces of historical journalism.

Image:  from Maclean's

Follow @CmedMoore