Marianne Ignace

Symposium sheds light on obscure B.C. war

October 4, 2007

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Marianne Ignace and her husband Ron wove a rich verbal tapestry of aboriginal mythology and historical perspective last month in Lytton at the first academic symposium on the Fraser River War of August 1858, a seminal but little-known event in B.C. history.

The SFU co-sponsored event was organized by the Lytton First Nation and the New Pathways To Gold Society as "a significant step in the aboriginal reconciliation process and the first major effort to shine light on a shadowy chapter of our past."

The war took place during the Fraser Canyon gold rush, just before B.C. became a Crown colony, when First Nations warriors waged an all-out defence of their territories and gold holdings against U.S. irregulars recruited from the thousands of American gold seekers who had flooded into the area.

Ignace, an SFU associate professor of anthropology and First Nations studies, was among 11 presenters who put the little-known war in context, illustrating how it still affects contemporary B.C.

The pair presented an oral history of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) and other Interior first-nation peoples and their early encounters with Europeans. That story "has usually been told through the eyes of explorers, traders and other visitors among us who left written legacies," says Ignace, whereas their presentation explored the "stories and memories of Secwepemc encounters with Europeans during the 19th century as told by their ancestors and with their own words."

Ignace also interpreted for her husband, SFU PhD candidate and Skeetchestn Indian Band chief, Ron Ignace, who delighted the 120-member audience with amorous tales of the Coyote in the Secwepmec language. The Coyote is a mythological character in many North American native cultures.,

"Close readings of the Coyote stories reveal different levels of meaning," says Ignace, the academic coordinator of SFU’s Kamloops aboriginal program. "Like the layers of an onion, they can be peeled away to illustrate kinship ties, historical events as well as moral and ethical behaviour."

The Fraser River War was a bloody confrontation that might well have resulted in an all-out U.S. invasion, and a very different future for B.C., had it not been for the peacekeeping skills and leadership of N’laka’pamux chief David Spintlum, instrumental in negotiating a truce in exchange for rights, land and resources—which the natives never received.

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