The Chilcotin War, A Colonial Legacy : Ann Nicholson

May 23 – June 24, 2013

I have been living in the Chilcotin for six years and in this time have learned the history of the Chilcotin War. I have also begun to understand the importance of this war in the lives of the people living here even now, and of how much of the social fabric of the area rests upon the tragic and painful events of 1864 and the colonial years leading up to them.

I am familiar with colonialism and its capacity for social destruction from my upbringing in South Africa. Eventually, at art school in Johannesburg I met people who were connected to the liberation movement and the African National Congress, which was illegal at the time. I became involved in the anti-apartheid struggle and as a result was jailed for 3 years. The people in South Africa are still struggling to overcome their history, just as the Tsilhqot’in people are struggling to overcome theirs. The ruthless greed and disrespect of the white colonists that prompted this struggle is the same in both countries, but the stories, of course, are completely different. My last series of paintings was based on the personal stories of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I have similarly been moved by the stories of the Chilcotin War.

At a meeting commemorating the Chilcotin War, Chief Joe Alphonse told the gathering that the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) was trying to locate the remains of Chief Ahan, who was taken to New Westminster after the Chilcotin War, tried, hanged and buried in an unmarked grave. The TNG was working to prevent a school from being built on what might be his grave. A visual image immediately sprang to my mind and with it the feelings of disrespect and the suffocation of an entire culture that this would represent. Learning more of this history, more images followed.

Chief Anahim addresses the Chiefs of the Dakelh and Secwepemc in Lac La Hache in 1859 with some white miners present:
“For some time our scouts have been bringing us news of white men who are coming up our rivers. We have tolerated these men, thinking them to be weak-minded and therefore entitled to the reverent regard which all Indians have for these weak ones as dictated by the Great Spirit. However, we have found out that these men are really not crazy and are washing out little pieces of yellow stone which they call gold and which they use for what we call sunia (money), to use as we use skins to trade for other goods.

This sunia really belongs to us and the white men are taking it without asking us for it. The priests tell us this is stealing. If we steal they tell us their God will punish us. But these white men are stealing from us. Will their God punish them for this bad act or have they made a convenient arrangement with this God? Has he one law for the Indian and another law for the white man?

We must keep these white men out! We must act together.  If we do not act immediately we will only have to drive them out later. This will result in much bloodshed, for them and also for our own people. We must act now or we are lost.

I would say to you white men, ‘Go back to the country you came from and induce your white brothers to do likewise. You are not wanted here. If you still choose to come and disregard my warning, then with sorrow I say it: Your blood and our blood be upon your heads and hands and not ours!”

(As quoted by Coffey et al, 1990)

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