Friday, October 29, 2010

John Lutz, Getting the Indians out of Town

On October 21, which seems a year ago now rather than simply a week, I attended the presentation by UVic's John Lutz in the "The City Talks" series at the Legacy Cafe in downtown Victoria, entitled "Getting the Indians Out of Town: Race and Space in Victoria’s History."

Lutz covered the 60-year effort of Victoria politicians and business leaders to move the Songhees First Nation out of downtown Victoria. Their primary reserve, between 1850 and 1911, was in what's now referred to as Vic West, where the Ocean Pointe Resort and the so-called Songhees developments now stand. As Lutz explained, there's a wealth of material evidence for the establishment of the reserve, for the persistence of the drive to boot the Songhees out, and for the complexity of the Songhees' integration into settler culture (which includes their complicated response to the ejection efforts). As recently as 1858, the settler community in Victoria was barely above vestigial, with considerably more First Nations residents and long-term visitors than there were settlers. Indeed, it's sometimes estimated that around 1860, between 5% and 10% of the entire North Coast First Nations population spent some time in Victoria, most of them making money through the roles they played in relation to the Cariboo Gold Rush. The at best callous (and at worst nearly murderous) response to the 1862 smallpox outbreaks meant that the North Coast connection took a significant hit, but the Songhees themselves remained.

During the question period, much of the discussion centred around the point of this research, and presenting it in this venue. Really, the consensus was that when the City of Victoria inevitably throws some sort of bash in 2012 for its 150th anniversary, the City needs to include the Songhees somehow in planning as well as in execution of the event; it needs to acknowledge the warts in its history; and it needs to remember just how short a time 150 years is, beside the duration of First Nations presence and history on the West Coast.

What about you? Been to anything interesting lately?

If you're in Victoria on November 24, by the way, I'm confident that the next one will be pretty great as well -- Michael Brown from the University of Washington, on the topic of "The Queen City Comes Out: An Historical Geography of Gay Seattle."

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