Historical negativism or denialism is the illegitimate distortion of historical records, which James McPherson, the Pulitzer winning historian further describes as a “consciously falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present”. A “cultivation of a specific political myth, sometimes with the consent of government.”
Which brings one to the 2nd last apology by PM Trudeau and the Liberals. (It is admitted that keeping track of the numerous apologies is getting increasingly difficult)
We were recently exposed to Trudeau riding in on a black steed, in a set-up photo moment. He was cantering in to dramatically apologize to the Tsilhqot’in in Nemiah Valley part of the Quesnel area of British Columbia. He had travelled across the country to once again apologize for events which occurred over 150 years ago; events that occurred on October 26, 1864, an event which has been termed by historians as the “Chilcotin uprising”.
This “uprising” was carried out by the self-designated “War Chiefs” of the Tsilhqot’in: Chief Klatsassin, Telloot, Tahipitt, Piele and Chessers. As the Liberal story goes they had been arrested 150 years earlier, convicted of murder, sentenced to death and eventually hung. This was a travesty according to your current government.
Apologizing to persons convicted of murder is unusual even in this day and age, even for this current group of politicians. Pictures of our theatrical PM Justin Trudeau literally riding in to set the record straight, to apologize for the execution of six chiefs of Tsilhqot’in more than 150 years ago seemed curious, worthy of further exploration.
In fact this was not the first apology for this event. In 1993 the B.C. Government apologized originally and erected a cairn in memoriam.
This first apology, as it turns out, was as a result of an Inquiry in British Columbia headed by Justice Anthony Sarich, who had been tasked to explore the “native people of the Cariboo-Chilcotin and the Justice system of the Province”.
He issued a final report: “Report on the Cariboo-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry, 1993.”
In his report Justice Sarich talked about this historical event which was referred to as the “Chilcotin uprising” or sometimes the “Bute Inlet massacre”.
There appears to have been no argument at any time that the Chiefs were innocent, but he said that there was “concern that the chiefs were induced to surrender and give inculpatory statements on a promise of immunity by Magistrate Cox”. In other words they had been “tricked” into surrendering and in doing so made some statements that implicated themselves.
Sarich stated that throughout the Chilcotin region, the story of this “uprising” had verbally been portrayed in the Indigenous community as the Chiefs defending their land, an effort in the fight against colonialism. So Sarich now had to confront two versions of the story; the documented historical version including trial transcripts and the one being verbally passed down in the Indigenous community.
Sarich in his final report, somewhat surprisingly, and not very Judge like, could not come to a conclusion and as the flavour of the day was appeasement, said “whatever the correct version that episode of history has left a wound in the body of Chilcotin society. It is time to heal that wound.”
So, on the basis of “whatever the correct version”, the BC government formerly apologized to the Indigenous of the Chilcotin in 1993.
Not to be outdone, the Trudeau government, who seems to search the historical records for anything resembling a good bandwagon when it comes to anything Indigenous also issued a “Statement of Exoneration” in March 2018 in Parliament. Of course, the opposition parties on hearing an apology to the Indigenous felt naturally compelled to join in unified approval. After all, how could any apology to the indigenous not be assumed to be well researched, another step toward reconciliation. Perception is everything, it is part of the reconciliation dogma.
What really catches ones attention were the actual words in the Exoneration document drafted by the Liberals. It said that the Chiefs are “fully exonerated because they were acting as one independent nation engaged in war with another when they were attacked and killed… a betrayal of trust” .
Even a dim historian, would wonder how was it possible to be a Nation at “war” when we were not yet a nation. This occurred in 1864 and our country was formed in 1867. Needless to say there neither was there a recollection of our yet to be “country” at “war” at the time.
Trudeau said the Chiefs were “protecting their Nation which was under threat” and they had acted “in accordance with their laws and traditions”.
So where did all this start?
In 1864 Governor Frederick Seymour was the colonial administrator in the region at the time and because of the interest in the extraction of gold, he also had a Gold Commissioner named William Cox. The governor had authorized or sanctioned the building of a wagon road from Bute Inlet to Fort Alexandria, with the idea being to connect it eventually to the Cariboo road, and then on to the gold fields of the Cariboo.
The killings for which the Chiefs were convicted began on April 29, 1864 when a ferryman, connected to the road crews, Timothy Smith, was confronted by the Chiefs. Whatever form the confrontation took it did not end well for Smith. They demanded food, shot Smith, and then threw his body into the river. The Chiefs then looted the food stores and supplies taking with them a 1/2 ton of provisions.
The following day, the Chiefs then attacked a workers camp in which three men were injured and escaped down river. Peterson Dane, Edwin Mosely and Buckley (last name unknown) escaped down the river, but the remaining crew were all shot or hacked to death. Their bodies were also thrown into the river.
Four miles further down, a foreman William Brewster was working on blazing the trail along with three others. They too were attacked by the Chiefs, and all were killed. Brewster’s body had been mutilated, his penis cut off and stuffed in his mouth, his heart cut out of his chest and eaten.
Later a settler of Puntzi Lake, William Manning, who was not related to the work crews was also killed.
A few days later, a pack train which was travelling through the area was subsequently “warned” about the Chiefs and the killing rampage, but the train decided to carry on. They were “ambushed” by the Chiefs and all were killed.
By the end of this spree, nineteen persons had been killed, shot or hacked to death.
Governor Seymour on hearing of the killings sent crews of twenty, and then fifty people in an effort to locate and arrest the Chiefs. All were to no avail.
This led to an eventual meeting of Commissioner Cox with the Chiefs. Cox apparently gave them assurances of friendship, and when the Chiefs came forward, all were arrested in what had to have been one of the original ‘sting’ operations.
In a trial all were convicted and sentenced to death by Justice Begbie who was fluent in both the Shuswap and Chilcotin languages. Their defence at the trial (and there is a transcript) was that they were “waging war”. The road crew they argued had been sent by the Colonial government, and therefore they were “under threat of smallpox and further loss of land”.
This was presented by Trudeau in his speech, in the Liberal revision said that the colonial government was “unwilling to accept that these six chiefs were leaders and warriors of the Tsilhqot’in Nation”…and that they were trying to “maintain rights to land that had never been ceded.” Then adding that they were “well regarded as heroes by their people”.
The heart of the issue is the motive. The Chiefs, and now this latest government all seem to believe that they were an “unceded” nation that could lay claim to any and all lands at any time. Therefore they could self determine if the road crew was on their “territory” and therefore conclude that the very building of the road was an act of war by a colonial government.
It stretches ones incredulity. The other possibilities and far more likely motives were “plunder”, “revenge”, and “starvation”.
The fact was that these individuals were innocents, killed in cold blood, persons working on a road, not at “war”. These were defenceless individuals who were slaughtered, mutilated and their bodies thrown in the river all seemed to escape the government vettors of apologies. There was no innocence here. There was no denial of the killings. Judge Begbie in his comments called the Chiefs “cruel, murdering pirates”.
If this trial was conducted in 2018, it is highly likely that their self declaration of war on a nation would not bear much evidentiary weight. The fact that they made inculpatory statements, and had been tricked into being arrested may have tainted any inculpatory statements they made, but it would not have led to a finding of innocence.
Mel Rothenberger, who wrote a book on the events, and who is a descendent of one of the victims of the massacre was interviewed by CBC Radio. He was upset by the revisionist version which has been allowed to be told without any kind of academic review. He too talks about the fact that there was no declaration of war, that these victims were hacked, shot and plundered. This was not war, this was a robbery homicide.
Rothenberger’s version is based on the record, as there are numerous academic documents including a trial transcript record. In fact he says it was one of the best documented areas of research in Canadian history of this time period.
The Indigenous version is clearly subjective, verbally worked over and passed down over the decades. In their reworking of the events, they obviously felt that portraying them as heroes and not criminals was in their best interest and now goes with this modern age of revisionism, the chant being forever and always the victims of colonialism.
This was cold-blooded murder. And your government in an effort to further ingratiate themselves to the indigenous cause seems to feel it is ok to pardon those murders, the colonialists and the innocent victims forgotten.
Michael Dunn in an article on Theory of Knowledge.net, writes on how and why history gets re-written and offers up four possible scenarios.
The fourth reason he cites is that there are social, political, and psychological paradigms that alter the historical record. In other words the political and social climate seeks to change history.
We were warned by George Orwell who said, in his acclaimed book “1984” that “he who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past”.
This story, at this particular time in Canadian history was indeed a black mark, one from which we should all learn. It should not be a proud moment for the Indigenous. Maybe, just maybe it is an example of the state at the time, the ongoing clash of colonialism with the indigenous. Nothing more.
Even if one accepts that this Indigenous group were desperate, hungry, frustrated by the ongoing Colonial inroads being made one still has to conclude that this was a murderous crew with much different intent. To bend and twist the pages of history, to hide the motivations, to cover up the brutality of it all and then make them heroes for massacring innocents is beyond the pale.
Not one journalist, not one parliamentarian felt the need to ask a question. No one did their homework. It makes one wonder how the descendants of the victims feel, but one thing is certain, they will never get an apology.
In March of 1968 during the Vietnam war, over three hundred unarmed civilians were killed by U.S. Troops; unarmed women, elderly and children were killed as an act of war. The defence argued that they were at war, therefore anything goes. Eventually Lt. William Calley was convicted of “war crimes” in a highly publicized trial which was considered one of the most shocking incidents of the Vietnam war. The killing of innocents even in a time of war could not be sanctioned.
In this smaller, Canada version, there was no war, but the Chiefs claimed in their defence and during their rewriting of their history that they were at war, defending their “nation” regardless of the fact that these were innocents, not soldiers in some real or imagined war. At the very least these Chiefs were war criminals. No mangling of the historical record can make them heroes.
Trudeau recently said while in Europe that “the very capacity for a citizen to engage with the truth is under attack”. How right he is.
The Liberals and those that followed suit should be ashamed. We will have to see if they too get “exonerated” in the next election, or maybe in 150 years.
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Hayward of the Canadian Press some Rights Reserved