Home > Featured > Deception, Delays and Theft. The truth about tiskwat you won’t find in history books. 

Deception, Delays and Theft. The truth about tiskwat you won’t find in history books. 

By Davis McKenzie

The late Dave Dominic remembers his kookpa lived at tiskwat.

Speaking with researcher Sandra Isaac, Dave recalled “My papa had a house there, on the other side of the mill where the break was. Teeʼouch, that was my dad’s father.”

Mr. Dominic’s account is echoed in memories shared by early qathet region settler Mr. Courtney Powell, who told Mrs. E. Ross in 1973 “Well, there used to be a reserve down near the mouth of the river…Well I used to play with Sammy Adams and a bunch of kids down there you see…And they used to take me out fishing in their little dugouts you know. Iʼd never been in a dugout before.” 

tiskwat is also where the first ever mass was held in the 1850’s.

Elsie Paul recalls learning from her grandparents that “When the missionary first arrived thatʼs where they said the first mass right where the mill site is there. There were little cabins there, thatʼs where people lived in when the first priest came and held the first mass right there. It was such a beautiful river.” 

In 1976 an archeological survey was completed in and around the qathet region and down towards Shíshálh territory.

Authors S. Acheson and S. Rile summarized it as follows

“…the Sliammon appear to have been relocated from the mouth of Powell River- Tiskwat- an important sockeye river, for the present site at Sliammon.”

Oral history, archeological evidence, and eyewitness accounts by early settlers all point to the same conclusion- that tiskwat (big/wide river) was a principal settlement of Tla’amin Nation and should have been designated as a reserve. 

So why wasn’t it?

A Lawless Land Grab

To understand how the lease and eventual sale of tiskwat could possibly happen requires historical perspective. In 1871, British Columbia entered Confederation through a sweetheart deal with Canada where First Nations got the short end of the stick.

The federal government was desperate for BC to become a part of Canada and not the United States, so they accepted the terms set out by BC, mainly that Canada would:

  • wipe out BCʼs debt;
  • accept a population base figure much higher than the actual population of the province, so that BC would receive a per capita grant along the lines of those given to other provinces; and
  • construct a transcontinental railway (that initially was slated to end in Bute inlet)

Following BC’s entry into Confederation, the new provincial government wanted to populate the province with settlers and stimulate industry. The newly formed province issued a number of timber leases including a timber lease which covered a vast area that encompassed what eventually became Lot 450 running from what is now known as Grief Point to Gibsons Beach. This lease was illegally issued before Tla’amin reserves were designated. 

At the same time that Tla’amin lands were being taken up, the limited treaty making efforts made by James Douglas a few decades earlier had long been abandoned. In 1876, the Federal government and the British Columbia government created a Joint Indian Reserve Commission to deal with the “Indian Land Question” in BC. This was initially a cohort of three commissioners – one appointed by the federal government, one by BC, and one agreed upon by both governments – but after two years the governments agreed the process was too costly and the jointly appointed commissioner, Gilbert M. Sproat, was given sole responsibility for Reserve designation in BC. 

While the formula for allotting reserve lands across the Prairies had been six hundred and forty acres per family of five, reserves in other provinces were settled with a minimum of 80 acres per family. 

The BC government used the fact that most First Nations relied on fisheries to allot small reserves at fishing sites, arguing that they did not need extra land. Later, the governments would erode Tla’amin fishing rights so that the Nation ended up with almost no lands or fishing rights. 

Strategic Delays 

Tla’amin, Klahoose, and Homalco had petitioned government to deal with land designation for decades. In 1876, the Joint Reserve Commission reached Jervis Inlet, but instead of continuing up the coast, they crossed over to Comox and proceeded south. 

Nevertheless, the Commission instructed the Province not to pre-empt land in Tla’amin territory until the commission could complete its work. The report read “All commissioners, nevertheless, joined in requesting the Provincial Government to withhold lands in the Sliammon and other districts…pending the return of the Commission, as soon as possible to adjust land matters in those districts.”

Of special importance to Tla’amin at the time was its request for a timber lease. Reserve Commissioner G.M. Sproat advocated for swift resolution of the issue, warning that industry and speculators were circling the area. He stated “…several influential persons in Victoria are interested in land speculations in connection with new discoveries on Texada Island, and a possible railway terminus at Bute Inlet, and they would rather that the Indians, even at this late period in the history of the province were left out in the cold for some time longer.”

According to the Province’s own laws, Indian settlements could not be pre-empted. However, the shape of the Tišosem village (old IR#1) that borders lot 450 reveals that it was the border of Lot 450 that defined Tla’amin reserve land which means that the lot shaped the reserve, not the other way around.  

By the time Tla’amin reserves were surveyed in 1879, tiskwat and many other important areas of the territory had been sold. The six reserves that were surveyed allotted the BC quota of 20 acres per family. It wasn’t until 1888 that Tla’amin’s six reserves were registered by BC.

tiskwat, located on Lot 450 which had by then already been purchased by RP Rithet,  was not designated as a reserve. 

How R.P. Rithet obtained Tiskwat 

In 1873, land speculator, contemporary of Israel W. Powell, and one-time Victoria Mayor, RP Rithet was granted a timber lease that encompassed lands from Grief Point to Gibsons Beach. For five years, Rithet was repeatedly granted extensions to his lease despite not having lived up to its conditions. Conditions included construction of a mill within 12 months of a lease being granted, and a requirement that the mill be active for the term of the lease.

Tla’amin people, unaware that a timber lease had been granted to Rithet, had repeatedly petitioned government for their own timber lease. Upon learning that a timber lease had been granted encompassing the village site of tiskwat and adjacent to the current village site at Tišosem, Tla’amin was moved to protest. 

In the fall of 1878, Sproat received word of a “disturbance” at Lot 450. Tla’amin men went to the logging camp at tiskwat and commandeered all of the logs cut in vicinity of the village. 

The conflict spurred Sproat to pen another letter to government;

“Are these Indians, still without land 22 years after the establishment of the colony and 8 years after Confederation, not to have any, now, even, after what they most desired and repeatedly asked for, has been sold and placed beyond their reach.”

Historical records show that Israel Powell used his position of authority as Superintendent of Indian Affairs to intentionally delay the survey of Tla’amin, Klahoose and Homalco territory. Originally, these delays by government had much to do with railway speculation and a promise of gold at sayayin (Texada). Powell dissuaded Sproat and the reserve commission from visiting Tla’amin, saying it would “do more harm than good.” 

Despite repeated requests from Sproat to attend to Tla’amin, Powell would not give Sproat permission to travel to Tla’amin territory. Defying orders, Sproat finally made it to Tla’amin in January of 1879. This delay enabled industrial interests to illegally purchase Lot 450, which included tiskwat, the original home of the Tla’amin people. 

In 1878, R.P. Rithet petitioned government to purchase outright a portion of his timber lease. The portion of land, later known as Lot 450, encompassed the tiskwat village. The law did not permit the purchase of Indian villages, yet Rithet knowingly included tiskwat in his application.

The application processed required that both purchaser and surveyor swear an oath in order for the purchase to be legally valid. Both Rithet and R.C. Cridge, as surveyor, had to swear, among other things, that there was no Indian Reservation or Settlement within the confines of Lot 450. 

In swearing the oath, Rithet and Cridge lied, knowing well that the original survey contained the village of tiskwat, which was not available for purchase. The crown grant could have been revoked on this information alone, not to mention the five years of non-compliance with the conditions of the original timber lease.

By the time Tla’amin was designated six reserves in 1879, tiskwat had been sold.

A combination of factors had led to the sale of tiskwat t including:

  1. the stalling of the reserve commission by the province. The commission didnʼt reach Tla’amin until 1879 even though Sproat had been requesting to go since 1876;
  2. the provincial government’s decision to repeatedly extend Rithetʼs timber lease despite his not meeting its conditions; and
  3. the forgery of documents, and commitment of perjury to permit the purchase of tiskwat.

Please read the November issue of the Neh Motl to learn about Tla’amin’s vision for the future at tiskwat.