When the rivers already had names



I’m leaving British Columbia hungry.

Hungry for more information about the indigenous people who have occupied the region longer than anyone recorded on paper.

This week, we heard one creation story illustrated through wood carvings at the museum at Campbell River, on Vancouver Island.

The first people–tribal people in the stories–emerged from the creatures in the skies above, including the sun and the thunderbird.

In a wise move the museum made the indigenous exhibit the entree for visitors: it’s the first thing they see.

Guests are greeted with native stories and a tribal mask arrangement before confronting stories about the settlers who named the towns, rivers and mountains after mostly white people–some who never set foot on the island.

The river was named to honor a physician, Samuel Campbell, who accompanied the crew of the HMS Plumper. The crew was tasked with charting the area from 1859-1861.

But the river was first known to local people as Tlamatook, according to the city of Campbell River’s website. 

The museum illustrated how settlers built homes on the island, displacing the native people. Political leaders framed the issue as The Indian Question, and sought ways to breed the “Indian” out of the individual.

The deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1913 to1932 enthusiastically agreed that Indians should be enculturated with European values and argued that Native children should be removed from the homes to attend boarding schools.

Duncan Campbell Scott, the deputy superintendent, justified his actions in this way:

“Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question and no Indian department.”

His words hang on a museum wall.

Issues surrounding indigenous people were framed as The Indian Question. Scott maintained that absorbing Natives into the mainstream would end the question.  

The settlers created laws designed to speed assimilation: you could vote and own land if you gave up your identity as an indigenous person.


Photograph by Carolyn Keeney of Komoggwey, created by Eugene Hunt. Copyright friendly for educational purposes.

Keeney, Carolyn. komoggwey.jpg. Dec-00. Pics4Learning. 3 Aug 2015


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, authenticity, human origin, Indian, native american, native press, social justice. Bookmark the permalink.

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