Secwepemc Cultural Education Society
"Metéltwecw-kt Es Knúcwetwecw-kt"
"Everyone come together to help one another."
Introduction To The Memorial To Sir Wilfrid Laurier
"The Memorial is an excellently drawn up presentation of their case in support of their demand for treaties..." Kamloops Sentinel, Aug. 26, 1910.
Soon after the establishment of the first Indian reserves on the mainland following the establishment of the Crown Colony of British Columbia in 1858, representatives of the interior tribes pressed for legal and political solutions to the land issue and the question of Aboriginal title and rights. By the first decade of the 19th century a series of petitions had been made to the Provincial and Federal governments, that included trips to Victoria, Ottawa and London.
The Memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier is just one of several historic documents that outline the Aboriginal lands and rights issues as they affected First Nations in BC, in this case, the Secwepemc (Shuswap), Nlakapamux (Couteau or Thompson), and Okanagan tribes.
The Memorial is written in a narrative form from the First Nations' point of view. It tells the Aboriginal side of the first hundred years of contact with non-Native peoples. The first newcomers were the fur traders who established forts at Kamloops in 1812, referred to as the real whites, who developed a relationship with the Indians based, at least, on a mutual enterprise, the exchange of furs for European goods. But after 1858, new arrivals with little interest in accommodation with the Native peoples began to exploit and settle in their traditional homelands. With the formation of the colony of British Columbia in 1858 in response to the Fraser River gold rush and the establishment of Indian reserves in the interior (Kamloops in 1862), the loss of land and resources by the First Nations became an acute problem.
Written in the form of a letter, the Memorial was dictated by the chiefs of the three interior nations to their secretary, James Teit, a young Scot who settled at Spences Bridge along the Thompson River and married into the Nlakapamux. He became a sympathetic advocate of Native rights and wrote several monographs on the Interior Salish tribes.
Regular meetings of the chiefs of the interior tribes culminated in a major assembly at Spences Bridge in July of 1910 to prepare the Memorial to Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada, who was planning a campaign visit to Kamloops. The meeting between the Chiefs and Laurier took place in a hall in downtown Kamloops on August 25, 1910. Teit was not present; instead, Father Jean Marie Raphael Le Jeune, read the document to Laurier on behalf of the chiefs.
Laurier pledged to help the Indians and returned to Ottawa. However, he lost the federal election the following year and the interior tribes were faced with the need to reiterate their complaints to the new government.
The Memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier reveals the beliefs and principles that guided the Native struggle in 1910, the same issues that are still at the forefront today.
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