dSpace: The Indian History Film Project

Haida Town of Chaatl. Source: NMC

There is an interesting archive of interview transcripts housed in dSpace at the University of Regina.  Most of the interviews were by CBC Radio’s Imbert Orchard and so share the flaws of Journalism and Anthropology.   The preamble says,

The original intent of The Indian History Film Project was to conduct interviews with First Nations elders across Canada and to produce a television series portraying Canadian history from a First Nations’ perspective.

The Indian History Film Project was an initiative of Direction Films and was conceived and developed by Tony Snowsill. The project leaders were Tony Snowsill and Christine Welsh. The project evolved over time, and eventually it was decided to access libraries and archives across the country to incorporate existing interviews with First Nations elders. All interviews, whether original or archival, were cross indexed by word and theme and housed in the C.P.R.C [Canadian Plains Research Centre].

A number of these interviews are with Haida people, notably Solomon Wilson and Florence Edenshaw, who discussed her arranged marriage, the meaning of Tow Hill, and the artistic tradition of her family, the Edenshaws and Davidsons.  It appears tapes of these are also available through the BC Archives, but not online.

Note: anytime you see (Indian) it means that a Haida word was not transcribed — an eerie effect.  Searching for British Columbia brings up 91 documents.

The following excerpt from an interview with Solomon Wilson of Skidegate sees him relating a tale of smallpox blankets:

TRIBE/NATION:                      HAIDA
LANGUAGE:                          ENGLISH
DATE OF INTERVIEW:                 1969
INTERVIEWER:                       IMBERT ORCHARD
SOURCE:                            CBC IMBERT ORCHARD
TAPE NUMBER:                       #IH-BC.67
DISK:                              TRANSCRIPT DISC #180
PAGES:                             23


– General reminiscences of his life.
– Talks about a smallpox epidemic before he was born.
Imbert:   …where it was that you were born and spent your
early days?

Solomon:  I was born in Vancouver.  For the main street there
down the (name) Avenue.  There was a big mill down there and my
father was working there.  I guess that was in 1887.  My people
are from here, from the west coast of the island.  And my
father happened to go down there — they used to go down there
and work.  I forget, I think he said $30 a month, yeah, $30 a
month on those boats.  They were steam boats that they worked
on and finally he got a job at the mill and he was there for
quite a while and that’s where I was born.

Imbert:   Is that the Hasting’s Mill?

Solomon:  In Vancouver, on (name) Avenue there just…

Imbert:   That’s right.

Solomon:  That was…

Imbert:   Randall(?).

Solomon:  Yeah.  I forgot what they… Hasting’s Mill.  I saw
it when I was going to school, I saw it.  It was still in full
swing when I saw it when I went to school up in Chilliwack
there.  And I was there again in… I was there again in 1937
at the same spot.  I wanted to go down there and see the place
that I was born.  And it was nothing but the boilers there
then.  It was all dismantled and everything was gone from
there, around there.  And a man come up to me and ask me what
the hell I was doing there.  So I said, “Now mister, you go
easy.”  I was yelling at him, I wasn’t scared of him neither.

So I said to him, “You go easy.  Can’t a man go around the
place where he was born?”  “You got no business here,” he says.
“Well, let me tell you that too.  You got no business here
outside of working here.  I was born here and I want to see the
place where I was born.”  And he cursed and he tell me to get
out, he was going to get the policeman.  So I said, “What wrong
am I doing around here that you want to chase me off?”  “Well,
I’m here to see that nobody gets around here.”  “Well, I tell
you mister, I’m going to be until I’m damn good and ready to
go, because this is the place I was born and I wanted to see it
for a long time and that’s where I’m going to be here.”

So I walked around and looking.  And he was right behind me
and…  In those fire boxes there was mattress there, you know,
old mattress, and to get his goat I ask him if that’s the place
he sleeps.  And he said to me, he says, “No,” he says, “some of
those bums stay down there.”  “Well, why don’t you chase them
fellows away from here that sleeps in that place there?  I
don’t sleep here.”  So I said, “The hell the with you.  I’m
going now.  I see all I wanted to see.”

So I walked away and I walked down the railroad track to the,
towards the sugar refinery and that volunteer peer there.  So
when I got there I, the company that we was getting the boat
from, I went in there and I told that guy about it.  And he
started to laugh.  He says, “Well,” he says, “I guess he was
told to do that and you can’t blame him.  But after you
explained it to him, if he said any more you should have
(laughs) you should have shut his mouth up and punch him in the
jaw,” he says to me.  Well there I get in trouble.  (laughs)
Well that’s as far as I go in the time I got, while I was done
there to look at my birthplace.

And from there on we come up and… but let that go.  I guess
my parents came up and this Maude Island Village is my uncle’s
village.  When a man is chief in the village like that, you
see, that village practically belongs to him.  What you people
call a mayor in a city, but he’s not voted in.  To be a chief
in the village is just like a king is born to a throne.  They
hand that down from generation to generation — on your
mother’s side, not on your father’s side.  In first place, my
people come from the west coast of the island here, from Kaisun
and around Chaatl in Buck Channel.  People used to do a little
hunting, getting all this nice fur seals and sea otter.  Well,
they used to go down to Victoria to sell that.

So while they were there the smallpox broke out.  That is
before my time.  And the people started, got scared of that
thing, people were dying so fast there that they left, got onto
their big canoes and they started to take all their belongings,
you see.  And there was a fellow there, he used to buy fur and
things like that.  And these blankets were in bundles, you see,
in big bundles, and people used to keep it in his place until
they were ready to come home.  Some people say he was a Jew.
Well, when that smallpox broke out somebody bought some
molasses from him, you see.  Well, how he got it I don’t know
and the only thing that I heard — whether it’s true or not
true — but this, I heard this from an old man.  He had, fellow
bought some molasses from there and they find a man’s small
finger with this smallpox spots on it.  Well, he figure if this
fellow die, the Indians that keep all that blankets and stuff
like that in his place there, when they die off he get it for
nothing.  That was his idea they used to say.  So it didn’t
turn out that way.  This guy was talking about it, you know,
and it didn’t turn out that way.  He got the smallpox and he
died too.  Well anyway, when they come up here they took all
their things along with them.  And when they got up along the
coast here, some of the canoes, crew all died off, you see, and
there they are.  They left everything.  The others were loaded
with goods and things like that, but when they die off they
left them then.

The mainland people hadn’t to go along, you see.  They didn’t
have the smallpox at that time, you see.  All the way from
Seymour Narrows up this way, some of the natives along there
find this canoe with all this belongings and everything, they
naturally took it.  Well, they got smallpox too from it.  On
the way up there’s just very few reached the islands.  And so
that’s how the smallpox was spreading right along the whole
coast, wiped out thousands of Indian people.  I heard this
story from Henry Young’s father.  He said he was just a little
boy then, you see.  Well anyway, the people got here and they
got over it.  All this thing is long time before my time.

But anyway my people came back here and father and mother moved
back here and live at Maude Island.  And in the early, in the
spring, they go to west coast to dry halibut.  And they get sea
food and things like that easier, because they know the place
on the west coast, you see.  Well, I was a little boy running
around barefooted and I never know what it is to wear shoes.  I
didn’t like them either when I first wear them.  And around
Kaisun there when I was a little boy — I don’t know how old I
was — well then, father was down there, my grandfather and…
Easier to get food, the halibut was plentiful.  And then some
other came back here and of course there was houses, those old
Indian houses.  My mother’s father had a big one at Kaisun and
then he had another one at (name).  Well, he lived in that and
then my father’s father had a big one there in Maude Island.
Live in that.  Of course…

Imbert Orchard, CBC producer. Source: BC "Living Landscapes"

3 responses to “dSpace: The Indian History Film Project

  1. Pingback: Smallpox Blankets « Time Machine by Heather Pringle

  2. Q, this blog never ceases to amaze. In addition to some great Haida oral histories, there is a collection of Rivers Inlet (Wuikinuxv Nation) interviews associated with the OOWEKEENO HISTORY PROJECT, with several well known elders – including Evelyn Windsor – being interviewed by David Stevenson waaay back in the mid-1970’s. Anyone interested in that area should check it out. In addition to caves and habitations along trails, there is mention of the use of Namu and Calvert Island as well as hunting grounds. A veritable treasure trove of info not to be cited without the authors permission. It would be fantastic to find the associated maps and have the ‘Indian’ names translated properly…


  3. Hi jim

    Nice to see an old post here be of some use. I never looked at all the rest of the archives there being rather Haida-centric in my habits. With increasing interest in Central Coast this could be a great resource, as you say.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s