Chesson to Lytton
10 Augt 1858
To the Right Honorable Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, MP,
Her Majestys Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies
&c &c &c
As the Aborigines Protection Society have for many years taken a deep interest in the welfare of the Indian tribes to the west as well as the east of the Rocky Mountains I am instructed to address you on certain matters affecting not only the rights and interests but the very existence of the numerous Indian population of the new Colony of British Columbia. It appears from all the sources of information open to us that unless wise and vigorous measures be adopted by the Representatives of the British Government in that Colony the present danger of a collision between the Settlers and the Natives will soon ripen into a deadly war of races which could not fail to terminate, as similar wars have done on the American Continent, in the extermination of the red man.
The danger of collision springs from various causes. In the first place it would appear from Governor Douglass's dispatches as well as from more recent accounts, that the Natives generally entertain ineradicable feelings of hostility towards the Americans who are now pouring into Frazers and Thompson's rivers by thousands, and who will probably value Indian life there as cheaply as they have unfortunately done in California. The reckless inhumanity of the gold diggers of that State towards the unfortunate Indians is thus described in a recent number of the New York Times:
"The Country is perfectly wild, and a dense forest, full of warlike Indians, and with the well known injustice of the Miner towards anything of the genus Indian or Chinaman, and their foolhardiness, they will get up a series of little amusements in the way of pistoling and Manuscript imagescalping quite edifying. It is the custom of Miners generally to shoot an Indian as he would a dog, and it is considered a very good joke to shoot at one at long shot to see him jump as the fatal bullet pierces his heart; and when in the spirit of retaliation some poor hunted relative watches his opportunity and attacks, a straggling white man, the papers at once teem with long accounts of Indian outrages; and yet the men that shoot down these poor Indians are not the ruffians we are let to suppose are always the authors of atrocities but the respectable sovereign people brought up in the fear of God by pious parents in the most famed locations for high moral character. The Indian and Chinese murders are more frequently committed by men brought up in the quiet country villages of Eastern States, and who return looking as innocent as lambs. There never yet existed so bad a set of men on the face of this fair earth as a certain class of the highly respectable sovereigns of the States who find their way to the frontiers. It is much to be rejoiced at that the Frazer River Indians are of a serious turn of mind, and can't take a joke, and in their ignorance of the sports and pastimes of the great American Nation may deprive some of the practical jokers of their 'thatches.'"
The necessity which is imposed upon Her Majesty's Government to adopt measures to protect the Indians against this class of diggers is too obvious to require any further illustration or argument on our part.
But there is another aspect of the question which is of equal importance. The Indians being a strikingly acute and intelligent race of men are keenly sensitive in regard to their own rights as the aborigines of the Country, and are equally alive to the value of the gold discoveries, no better proof of which could be furnished than the zest and activity with which large Manuscript imagenumbers of them have engaged in gold digging. Governor Douglass states that in the earlier stages of the gold discoveries they endeavoured to expel the Settlers who were then few in number, and to obtain possession of the fruits of their labour; but he also states that while manifesting a determination to reserve the gold for their own benefit they yet respected the persons and property of the Whites. Other accounts describe the Indians as "quiet and peaceful" but state that "as soon as a miner lays down his pick an Indian stands by to make use of it for himself, and when he lays down the shovel for the pick the Indian takes the shovel and relinquishes the other implement." They are further described as having learnt the full value of their labour in proof of which it is stated that they now charge $5 to $8 a day instead of $1 for their services as boatmen in navigating Thompson's and Frazer's rivers.
As, therefore, the Indians possess an intelligent knowledge of their own rights and appear to be determined to maintain them by all the means in their power, there can be no doubt, that it is essential to the preservation of peace in British Columbia that the Natives should not only be protected against wanton outrages on the part of the white population, but that the English Government should be prepared to deal with their claims in a broad spirit of justice and liberality. It is certain that the Indians regard their rights as Natives as giving them a greater title to enjoy the riches of the Country than can possibly be possessed either by the English Government or by Foreign adventurers. The recognition of Native rights has latterly been a prominent feature in the Aboriginal Policy of both England and the United States. Whenever this principle has been honestly acted upon peace and amity have characterized the relations of the two races, but whenever a contrary Manuscript imagePolicy has been carried out, wars of extermination have taken place and great suffering and loss, both of life and property, have been sustained both by the Settler and by the Indian. We would beg therefore most respectfully to suggest that the Native title should be recognized in British Columbia, and that some reasonable adjustment of their claims should be made by the British Government.
The present case resembles no common instance of white men encroaching on the lands and rights of aborigines for hunting or settlement. It more than realizes the fabulous feuds of Gryphons and Aremaspians and no ordinary measures can be expected to overcome the difficulties which duty, and interest require to be removed if British Columbia is to become an honourable or advantageous portion of the British dominions. It would seem that a treaty should be promptly made, between the delegates of British authority and the Chiefs and their people as loyal just and pacific as that between William Penn and the Indians of Pennsylvania but that more stringent laws should be made to ensure its provisions being maintained with better faith than that was carried out on the part of the whites. No nominal protector of Aborigines, no annuity to a petted Chief; no elevation of one Chief above another will answer the purpose. Nothing short of justice in rendering payment for that which it may be necessary for us to acquire, and laws framed and administered, in the spirit of justice and equality can really avail. To accomplish the difficult but necessary task of civilising the Indians and of making them our trusty friends and allies it would seem to be indispensable to employ in the various departments of Government a large proportion of well selected men more or less of Indian blood (many of whom could be found at the Red River )
Being of tribes wholly different & unacquainted even with the language of the Fraser river people, they could be liked to them by other Europeans. [HM].
who Manuscript imagemight not only exert a greater moral influence over their race than we could possibly do, but whose recognized position among, the whites would be some guarantee that the promised equality of races should be realised. The adoption of these or, similar measure would, we believe, propitiate the goodwill of the Indians, and instead of obstructing the work of Colonisation they might be made useful agents in peopling the wilderness with prosperous and civilised Communities of which they one day might form a part.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedt Servant
F.W. Chesson
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale
Fortunately Sir Edward Lytton has not omitted the interests of the Indians in his consideration of the numerous topics arising from the formation of this new Colony; and I think the writer might be so informed. It would probably be desirable to send the Governor a Copy of this letter, and again enjoin upon him the utmost protection which can be afforded to the Indians. The attention of the Legislature, when constituted, should be also immediately directed to this subject.
ABd. 18 Augt.
Lord Carnarvon
I would acknowledge civilly & do nothing more. These gentlemen are well meaning—at least many of them—& they represent a common & healthy British feeling; but the worst of it is that "protection of aborigines" has become with them a technical profession. They may see, or pretend to see, two sides of a case; consequently their practical suggestions, when they make any at all (which, I must do them the justice to say, is very seldom) are of a character which would probably cause some astonishment to people on the spot. I cannot think this a letter of which a copy would be serviceable to the Governor.
HM Augt 19
Acknowledge civilly?
C. Aug 20
Acknowledge with civility, & I think it might be expected to send a copy to the govr 1st to strengthen his own hands with regard to the Natives 2dly to shew in Parlt that the subject has not been neglected by us.
EBL Aug. 21.
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Lytton to Douglas, No. 72, 2 September 1858.
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Draft, Carnarvon to Chesson, 1 September 1858, acknowledging receipt and informing him "that the welfare and interests of this race have not been lost sight of in the instructions which he [Lytton] has given to the Governor."