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Early Days
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Land and Culture
Early Days
Sir James Douglas
Land Question
Early Native Protests
Unlawful to Protest
1969 White Paper
Calder Case
Coolican Report
Gitskan - Wet'suwet'en
Works Cited

The Early Days

Though some contact with Europeans preceded 1778, Captain Cook's landing in Nootka Sound to repair his ships and food launched a relationship that began with mutual benefit and grew to be one-sidedly exploitive, denigrating, and self-serving. From Cook's perspective, the Nuu-chah-nulth appeared savage, lacking in intelligence and beauty. The furs they possessed, however, showed great quality and quantity. A trading partnership began.

This "partnership" no doubt benefited the Europeans but the first people of the coast were not naive traders to be duped with glass coloured beads. The Europeans possessed metals, pottery, tools, guns, and cloth that vastly improved the everyday lifestyle of coastal natives. Leisure time increased; art, story-telling, and culture flourished. Their experience of the whites was that they were temporary visitors who had no desire to accumulate land, no incentive for settlement and no reason to displace Indian suppliers.

In 1790, British sovereignty was established over Vancouver Island through the signing of the Nootka Convention with Spain. (Spain had also been making territorial claims in the area, with the Nootka Convention averting a war.) The Crown, in 1821, granted exclusive rights to trade with natives and propriety rights of Vancouver Island to the Hudson Bay Company. Possible settlement by the European community remained unstated.

Though it would be over 25 years, in 1849, before the colonial period of British Columbia would begin in earnest, the impact of "contact" was already spreading far beyond the exchange of goods.

As early as the 1780's, epidemics of measles, tuberculosis, and smallpox mushroomed leaving a wake of death. Natives, who contacted the disease from Europeans, were shipped back to their villages, where the diseases spread unchecked. Village were decimated. (From an estimated 200,000 people at time of contact, the native population plunged to 22,605 in 1929. (Fisher)). The children and elderly, the most vulnerable, died.

With the elders passed the wealth of the culture; with the children passed the hopes of thriving native development. Elders carried the responsibility of leading the community. Through them came the language and stories of the people, as well as values, art, and dance. With the loss of the elders' perspective and wisdom, the ability of the first nations to cope with the encroachment of settlers was dramatically hindered.