A Letter

To the Editor of the Victoria Standard: –

Okanagan Mission, August 28th, 1874.  

 * The writer, CJ Grandidier, ran the Okanagan Mission as a priest and missionary.

Printed in “Papers Relating to the Indian Land Question in British Columbia,” 1875, Queen’s Printer


SIR, – In your issue of the 12th instant you have an article entitled “AN Indian War,” which has called my especial attention. In it you attribute with correctness the never ceasing strife between the white and the Indian on the American side to the iniquitous treatment inflicted upon the latter. Your reflections have forcibly drawn mine to our native tribes, and to their present dissatisfaction about their lands, which dissatisfaction has not abated, for the visit of Colonel Powell, Indian Commissioner, has not had all the results which were anticipated from it.

            At Kamloops the Shuswap Indians gathered to welcome him, expecting that their grievance would be redressed. They exposed to him their needs, their earnest and unanimous wish to have more land. By the improvements which they had already accomplished on their reservations, without help from anybody, by their sole efforts, and by census of their cattle, they showed him that theirs was no idle wish.

            The Commissioner was pleased with them and gave substantial proofs of his interest, for which they feel very grateful; but for the land question it was out of his power to settle it according to their wish.

            When the Dominion Government took charge of the Indian tribes of British Columbia it was proposed to adopt the same policy towards them as towards their brothers of the other Provinces, and grant each family a large quantity of land. To this proposition the Local Government objected, and would not grant more than twenty (20) acres. Is it just and expedient for the Government to grant the natives as small a portion of land as possible? None will think so.

            Before the settlement of this Province the natives were in possession of it. There was no one to restrain them in that possession. Their horses had wide pasture lands to feed upon. The whites came, took land, fenced it, and little by little hemmed the Indians in their small reservations. They leased the land that they did not buy and drove the cattle of the Indians from their own pasture land. Many of these reservations have been surveyed without their consent, and sometimes without having received notice of it, so that they could not expose their needs and their wishes. Their reservations have been repeatedly cut off smaller for the benefit of the whites, and the best and most useful part of them taken away till some tribes are corralled on a small piece of land, as at Canoe Creek or elsewhere, or even have not an inch of ground, as at Williams Lake. The natives have protested against those spoliations, from the beginning. They have complained bitterly of that treatment, but they have not obtained any redress.

            Is that treatment according to the dictates of Justice? Who will wonder at the dissatisfaction that has been growing amongst the Indians? The land was theirs and their forefathers before the whites came; that land has been wrenched from them in virtue of might, not right; not a cent has been given them to extinguish their title to the land. They have been left to struggle on the parcel of land allotted them without any encouragement, any help, any agricultural implements from any quarter, and, because they are forbearing and peacefully disposed, they are to be granted the minimum possible of land.

            I appeal to every impartial mind, is that treatment according to Justice? And are not the natives justified in now claiming their rights? Reverse the case, and place the whites in the place of the Indians, which white settler would bear with it? And it is not correct to say that no injustice has been done to the Indians in taking away their land because they did not cultivate it. For they were the owners of the land, and the title to a property is not rendered valueless because the property is left to decay. Our American neighbours have recognized that title, since they have passed a treaty with all the tribes whose land they come to occupy. Whether they fulfilled that treaty or not is not the question; but they recognize the Indian title to the land, although those lands were not in the same condition then as it was here when the whites came. Besides their lands were valuable to the Indians for hunting, and now the game is receding far away before the whites. It was valuable to them for their horses, and now their horses and cattle have no ground to feed upon, and would starve in some places were it not for the forbearance of some white settlers.

            In former times the Indians did not cultivate land; now, taught by the example of the whites, they see its value. They are not unwilling to let the whites have the greater and the best portion of it, but not the whole or nearly so. Children and owners of the soil, they want a sufficient share of it to get a living from it. They do not think that when a white man can pre-empt 320 acres and buy as much more, besides the facility of leasing more, that they are unreasonable in asking 80 acres of their own land per family; and in that they are supported by the example of the Dominion Government’s conduct towards the other Indians, if they claim that it is to use it. And already on their reservations, or most of them, they carry on farming as far as their limited means and knowledge permit it. Both will improve in time, as the already effected improvement is a convincing proof. They must not be judged according to what they have been in past times, but according to what they are, and promise to be, useful and industrious men. It is better for every settler to have the Indians fixed contentedly on farms than wandering discontentedly, and looking with anxious eyes on the fat of the land which they are not allowed to share.

            Then it is but just to deal fairly by them, and lay for their use reservations amply sufficient for their future wants. For the reservations which are to be laid over are to be permanent for many generations.

            But will not twenty acres be sufficient for each family? What is the purpose of the Government? To civilize and make useful men of them. The first step to do it is to reclaim them from their wandering life and attach them by bonds of interest to the soil.

            But if the Indian leaves off his ordinary pursuits of life he expects to find a better compensation in the new means adopted by him to earn the livelihood of his family and his own. Will he find it in a tract of twenty acres? Will those twenty acres be all good cultivated land easy of irrigation? Probably not. Supposing them however to be so, how can he get from them a comfortable living for his family?

            Actually, the Indian cannot live as he used to formerly; his contact with the whites has created for him new and imperious needs which must be satisfied, in the way of clothing and food. Besides his family he will have to find enough of food on his twenty acres to keep his horses and cattle. Having no natural meadows whereon to cut hay, he will have to sow grass on a large piece of his twenty acres, for already the Indian begins to raise cattle, and the census taken last Spring shows 436 heads of horned cattle and about 1,300 horses between seven tribes, and they are only beginning. What will it amount to in ten or twenty years if they have land enough to feed them? Having set aside the part for hay they will cultivate the cultivable balance of their twenty acres; after a few years that land being light soil will require manure, but where will the Indians find it? Where are they to keep their horses and cattle to save manure? How many heads can they keep on twenty acres summer and winter, after the needs of their families have been attended to? Then what can they do with their exhausted land, without means of fertilizing it, and without any more of it to sow, while the old piece is left to rest? If a white man can scarcely eke out a living with his 320 acres how can an Indian do it with 20? They will have twenty (20) acres while the present head of the family lives, but at his death, his sons dividing his inheritance, will have ten or even five acres for their lot. Are such prospects attractive enough to lead the Indians to leave off their wanderings and turn all their energies to cultivate the soil?

            Is it possible to believe that the Indians can, any more than anybody else, live with their families out of the produce of 20 acres, keep horses and cattle there and meet all expenses? Besides, a good part of the reservation, with a  few exceptions, in either over-flooded in summer, or parched for want of water which cannot be brought there, covered with timber, or strewn with rocks, as any visitor may convince himself.

            Out of 320 acres a man may pick out the best spot to cultivate and make a living; out of twenty acres it is impossible; which white family would like to try it? And still they have more means and knowledge at their command than the Indians.

            If the Government be sincere in its intentions of civilizing the Indians, let sufficient land be allotted to them; as it is at present it is either too much or far too little; too much if the Government does not want them to cultivate their farms and live from the produce, too little by far if it does.

            The question is too important for the welfare of the country to stop at half measures. But those who want to cultivate on a large scale can pre-empt land as any other man, after they have obtained a special authorization from the Governor. That permission may be refused, and would be if many applications were sent, for that special permission is required against Indian pre-emption, and it is not the Government policy to let Indians pre-empt. Besides, suppose the permission granted, how can an Indian who has nothing, no provisions, no money, no implements of agriculture, remain for ten months on his claim with his family? When he leaves he cannot engage a white man, another Indian cannot take his place, so that in his absence to procure food for his family his land may be jumped.

            Pre-emption is but a nominal right to the Indian for whom it was not intended, and whose condition does not allow him to fulfill the provisions of the law.

            The natives are now quite awake to the necessity of following the example of the whites. They look into the future with fear for themselves and their children if they do not do so; they want reasonable means for doing it, and consequently demand 80 acres of a farm for each head of a family, and extensive mountain pasture for their cattle, so as to allow them to increase their number every year and improve their own condition. This they have asked from the Indian Commissioner; they are anxious to obtain no money, nor any other compensation will they accept in its stead.

            The Indians of this country, as a people, are honest, peaceful, law-abiding, and well disposed towards the whites; none can complain that they have done him any harm. On the contrary, they are industrious and of great service to the whites. Let not their good qualities be turned against their interests, but be one reason the more to secure to them the means of becoming useful members of society. If they obtain the right which they claim, the good feeling that reigns between them and the whites shall be strengthened for ever. The settlers need not entertain any fear of them; we shall never see in our midst the heart-rending scenes which desolate so many homes among our neighbours; and the comparison which you draw to the advantage of our Government and of its just treatment of the natives will remain an undisputed truth.

            But if the Indians are persistently refused their demands, if they are deprived of their fathers’ land without any hope of redress from the proper authorities, their dissatisfactions will increase, meetings shall be held again, as it has been about their grievances, until they come to an understanding, the end of which I am afraid to foresee. We may have very serious disturbances, which it might be impossible to suppress except at the cost of human life and large expenditure of money, as our past experience has taught us with the Chilcotin Indians; and those were only a handful of men, whilst the present dissatisfaction pervades all the tribes living amongst the whites.

            I beg to apologize for the length of this communication, but the matter is too important for me to keep silent. If it is my duty to teach the Indian to keep the commandments of God, and obey the just laws of man, it is no less my obligation to spare no effort in order that justice be done to them, and that peace and security be preserved in my adopted country.

                                    Believe me to remain, etc.,

                                                (Signed)    C. J. Grandidier