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Not One Dissident Voice: Tla’amin Assertions of Power Over Forest Resources in British Columbia, 1870-1930

Sat, March 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, RC D

Abstract

On a cool fall day in October, 1878, Indian Land Commissioner Gilbert Sproat received a chilling message. Israel Powell, the superintendent of Indian Affairs for the newly minted province of British Columbia, penned a letter requesting immediate assistance. He had witnessed a bold assertion of Tla’amin power at a settler-logging camp at the mouth of what is now known as Powell River. Tla’amin men tolerated the presence of white loggers; having a logging camp near a Tla’amin settlement offered a lucrative employment opportunity, and Tla’amin men were already making a significant contribution to the industry. But when white loggers cut logs too close to the Tla’amin village at Tees’kwat, Tla’amin loggers took matters into their own hands and seized the logs cut illegally from their territory. Toleration turned to trepidation, and the Tla’amin claimed their resources by asserting power and control over their territory.
This paper seeks to show continuity in Tla’amin forest use by highlighting parallels between how Coast Salish people used the forest before and after the arrival of European-settlers. Using a chronology that spans contact provides avenues to see cultural continuity within dramatic change. This is a history of acceptance and rejection, of continuity and change. Working in the woods has always been important to the Tla’amin, and this did not change with the arrival of Europeans. The presence of a colonial logging industry changed the Tla’amin’s relationship with the forest, but ignoring elements of continuity in Tla’amin understandings of the forest risks obscuring more than it reveals.
Using ethnohistorical methodology, this paper developed from community-level questions about the history of Tla’amin engagement with the commercial logging industry in their forests. At a time when Indigenous power and resistance is reaching new levels, this paper provides historical context for discussions of Indigenous power, resistance, acceptance, and change.

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