Trails of Tears and Hope
“Collective trauma” takes a ferocious toll on human societies—yet there are pathways to healing.
The hamlet of Alkali Lake, about 100 miles north of Vancouver, is home to to one of a handful of surviving Shuswap Bands of Native Americans in British Columbia. Nearby villages include Dog Creek, 70 Mile House, Horsefly and Likely. In many ways the history of the 400 Indians living there resembles that of many other Indigenous peoples.Starting in the 1850’s, thousands of Euro-canadian miners and settlers began pouring into Shuswap territory, eager to take the Indian ancestral land. The tribe made easy prey. Diseases that Europeans had introduced during the previous half-century of contact had already reduced their numbers by two-thirds. In 1860, the Canadian government started seizing the Native people’s lands for the settlers, herding the Indians onto much smaller reserves that shrank steadily over the decades. Beginning in 1891, the government forcibly removed Shuswap children from their families for three generations and enrolled them in the Williams Lake Residential Boarding School, 20 miles away, run by christian missionaries. Its pedagogy involved harsh punishments for speaking the Shuswap language, as well as relentless indoctrination about the inferiority of Indians’ culture and heritage. Conditions there, according to a University of British Columbia anthropologist included hunger, spoiled food, whippings and beatings, public humiliations, and sexual abuse.
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by Craig Lambert