Arthur McCallum to Frederick Chesson, 26 October 1886, C141/137

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McCallum, Arthur









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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C141-137


The Metlakahtla Indian Trouble

The Old Admiralty House
Maple Bank Esquimalt, Victoria
British Columbia 26th October 1886

My dear Mr Chesson,

As I write from my house here on Esquimalt Harbor H.M.S. gunboat Cormorant is getting up steam to proceed to ‘Metlakahtla’. She carries as passengers members of Bishop Ridley’s mission, and the composition of a magistrates court; police officers etc necessary to present the civil power to be handed over to the commander of H.M.S. Cormorant in event of any further obstruction of the survey party by the Indians of Metlakahtla.

I believe I am correct in stating that the government have in contemplation the arrest of Mr Duncan himself on a charge of conspiracy with the Indians against the country. To destroy thus the work of a thirty years mission of peace and goodwill and to deliberately manufacture a miserable Indian war by denying the Indians the ordinary justice they demand of a legal enquiry before a competent tribunal as to their right to prevent trespass upon their lands. Although the government has had to treaty with these northern Indians, they have hitherto tacitly submitted their disputes to magisterial enquiry, and accepted the award with all submission. But again and again let me impress upon you that with these northern tribes there has been no treaty whatever as to their land. I have since my previous hurried letter to you on this matter been able to read the clever but subtil indictment of Mr Duncan in the article by Mr Henry Morris in the Journal of the Church Missionary Society for September last, as to which I trust the public in England will suspend its judgement. Towards the conclusion of this article Mr Morris says ‘undoubtedly the heart of the matter is that the object of Mr Duncan is power, the desire of the Indians land.’ There is a half truth in this. These highly civilized Indians, unhampered by treaty with us, have dared to fall bank upon the first principles of right and justice, and the law of long and ancient inheritance of this northern country, usually recognized in the comity of natives, where human rights are not simply referred to the right of the strongest to annex all lands within parallels of latitude irrespective of the just rights of individuals or of communities within those parallels. Mr Morris would in his ‘article’ make of Mr Duncan if possible a more vulgar edition of Mr Parnell in this land agitation. The civilization centered at Metlakahtla has leavened the tribes for hundreds of miles, for the Duncan mission there includes scattered Indians from many tribes.

No man of Mr Duncan’s calibre could have done for so many years the work that he has, without becoming a power amongst them, like to Moffat or Livingstone, but it is a power like was theirs acquired upon the lines of ‘he who would be greatest amongst you let him be your minister,’ and his influence over these interesting tribes has been acquired by his teaching them the gospel of love, duty, justice, and self renunciation by his own example. And let me say (and as you know I may speak with some authority in such matters) no better judges of human nature perhaps exist than your so called savage, for without literature, or the help of ‘Bain, on character, the emotions, and the will’ or of ‘Spencer’s data of ethics’ he can as traders will tell you, read your face like a book, anticipate your intentions, and form the justest opinion of your character and motives. Only truly could sterling metal stand a thirty years test amongst such people, or simple minded unseeking largeness of mind acquire such power unsought. The object of this letter however is not to defend a good man against random and unworthy inferences, based upon what I doubt not will before long be shown to be misstatements of actual facts, but rather to try (if happily there yet be time) so to influence public opinion, that a great wrong may not be done to Mr Duncan, and to his people.

It is hardly desirable to stimulate the somewhat stagnant trade of Victoria, and the Canadian Pacific Railway, with the blood of white men and of … by an unjust Indian war.

If we possess any fair right to sequester their lands, say on the strength of their hitherto submission to our law, yet without any treaty, still these tribes should be the special wards of the imperial government. Yet notwithstanding their voluntary nay anxious wish to submit their case to a competent tribunal, and that no more law abiding Indians could be found throughout the great north west, yet we have the spectacle here of their guardians Dr Powell and Mr P. O’Reilly (the heads of the Indians department of Victoria) approving of the policy of coercion in this gunboat business, military coercion of these people who have merely without violence resisted in legal fashion what they consider an illegal trespass on their land by the survey party. They ask for their case to be tried before a competent court. Is the government (having no treaty with these northern tribes) afraid to go into court, that they back their survey people with cold steel? There is more than this perhaps. Sir John Macdonald is not content with the ‘Riel’ incident, but when at Victoria last month volunteered the information that he had given to Mr Dunsmuir the president of the local railway company of this island of Vancouver (and without reference to the Indians who he stated he had no desire to consult) their entire reserve on the Victoria Harbour, which said reserve was excepted from the treaty made with these Indians by the former governor of this province Sir James Douglas, to be theirs in perpetuity. This will show you the highhanded way in which these poor poor people are treated with the acquiescence of the heads of the Indian Department.

Fortunately for the Indians this give away of their lands for which a nominal value of £12000 was to be paid by the railway company is at present in abeyance simply because if their lands were taken it was found they would lapse to the Crown, and that special reference to the imperial government and an act would be necessary to complete the conveyance to the railway company. But I have hope that now this transaction is exposed to the light of public opinion that this ill faith with the Indians will not be done. They have heard their probable fate and seen the surveyors of the railway on their lands. Can you wonder at the feeling of the Metlakahtla Indians at the survey party on their land after this?

Now just above Metlakahtla on the coast is Fort Simpson an Indian town in the middle of which stands the block house stores of the Hudson’s Bay Company which give it its name. Opposite this Indian town is a peninsular upon which the terminus of a projected railway to open out this almost unknown country might be advantageously made, the peninsular forming the site of the future seaport and town. Various white men have from time to time wanted government to allow them to settle on this peninsular but were always told that it was Indian land and refused. Recently this land was surveyed and immediately parceled out by the government in British Columbia amongst some dozen members and friends of the local administration, this of course without reference to the tribes; and the conveyance sealed signed and delivered to this syndicate for what may be quoted as the ‘ridiculously inadequate sum’ of a couple of hundred pounds apiece.

Once more can you be surprised that the Indians at Metlakahtla through whose lands also this projected railway may pass, desire to ascertain what their rights if any may be, and by legal methods if possible. Wrong is no man’s right be he Indian or white, but if might, not right, is to be the rule of our race over the Indian, war, not the gospel of peace, our chief agent of their civilization and improvement (off the face of the cartle if possible) then where is the raison d’etre of the Church Missionary Society? I pause for reply!

I am my dear Mr Chesson
Yours faithfully
Arthur … McCallum


Please remember me to Mr McArthur. You may make what ever you please of this letter with my signature attached for my facts are sure. Kingly however post me any printed proceedings in which any communications of mine are alluded to, and let me assure you I am equally without religious bias as I am or try to be without other bias in this question. …

Two printed enclosures
Both Duncan and McCallum are concerned about public opinion.