19 September 2011
About the Gitxsan -
In an effort to capitalize on the immense amount of important information available about Gitxsan history, culture, and language in the Gitxsan Archives I will be writing an article each month highlighting a fascinating item in the archives. This month's article is about a paper written by I.V.B Johnson about the Skeena Uprising of 1888. All the articles will be placed in the history subsection under the culture menu item.
The Skeena Uprising of 1888
by Ryneld Starr
You could forgive a man walking the streets of New York City in the summer of 1888 for wondering why a commotion between two groups of people another country away and on the other side of the continent was worthy of mention in a local newspaper. After-all, the communications network so to speak in the late 19th century did not lend itself to a quick and easy delivery of information cross-continent. It must have been a commotion of immense proportions for the newspapers to have deemed it worthy to gather and print. “The Skeena River Revolt” declared the New York Times in its July 22, 1888 edition. Upon review of the article our curious reader would have swarmed with excitement to see that “indians” (to use the vernacular of the time) were “laying siege to the Hudson's Bay Fort” in Hazelton where all the white population was gathering. Indian wars were still being fought in the United States at the time. It was a reality of the period as white settlers, backed by government policy continued expansion into indian territories. Thus news of a potential war in Canada was, at least, of cursory interest to the man in the street in 1880's New York City.
5,000 kilometres away in Hazelton as well as down south in the provincial capital Victoria, what was happening in the traditional territories of the Gitxsan people was definitely cause for attention. The provincial government was preparing to send the warship HMS Caroline and a Militia of 70+ troops up the coast to the mouth of the Skeena River. White residents in Hazelton were fearful of attack at the hands of local Gitxsan, and the spectre of murder was in the air. How this situation came to be can be blamed on numerous factors: cultural misunderstanding, traditional beliefs of revenge, and the overall state of native/white relations in Canada at the time. One of the most detailed accounts of the Skeena River Uprising is the paper entitled, “The Skeena River Uprising 1888” by I.V.B. Johnson which is held in the Gitxsan Archives. Johnson explores the uprising from the point of view of the Gitxsan oral history of the event, as well as the official documented history via the government officials, newspaper reporters and missionaries at the time. It is as detailed an account as you can get considering the time of the events, and provides a vivid view of the existence of Gitxsan people at the time and their relationship with the ever encroaching white worldview and law.