Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I'm Not Sorry

Re-enactment of events from the Chilcotin conflict. BC Archives.

In indigenous news today, Justin Trudeau has just apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the hanging of six Tsilhqot'in on the charge of murder in 1864. And Pope Francis has refused to apologize for the Catholic involvement in the aboriginal residential schools.

Pope Francis is right. Trudeau is wrong.

To begin with, notice that the incident for which Trudeau has just apologized took place in British Columbia in 1864—when Canada had not been formed and BC was an independent colony under the UK. Canada had nothing to do with it. And the BC government has already apologized.

But then, the BC government should probably not have apologized. The six Tsilhqot'in had killed fourteen men in cold blood. They were given a jury trial, following all the proper legal procedures, given full benefit of the law, as they say, and the jury found them guilty.

Their defense, then and now, was that this was not murder, but an act of war.

But if so, given that the attacks were surprise attacks on unarmed civilians, without hostilities having been declared, they plainly were war crimes, for which capital punishment was still the accepted remedy.

One might counter that such surprise attacks on civilians without a declaration of war were accepted practice in Indian warfare. Very well, if you wish to appeal to Indian rules of war, it is still entirely correct to have hanged the lot of them once captured, with or without torture.

From the point of view of any government of the time, their prime duty was to protect their citizens—all citizens—from being slaughtered in their beds. Whether the Indians considered this war is not relevant in this equation. There had to be stern action to prevent others from lightly doing likewise. To have extended clemency and then negotiated some deal with the killers in response to the massacre would have been to extend license for general slaughter.

So what exactly needs an apology from anyone? That something might have been done by the colonial authorities of the day to improve communication or understanding between the Tsilhqot'in and the whites before matters reached this point? Perhaps; such conflicts were mostly avoided elsewhere in what became Canada by the treaty-making process, which was not pursued in BC. That seems a mistake. 

Expeditionary party sent by the BC government to arrest the killers.

But that also seems to place a disproportionate moral burden on the whites. It is like blaming the US for Pearl Harbor, because they had not done enough beforehand to ensure good relations with Japan… It is, in the end, a colonialist attitude, making the Tsilhqot'in not responsible for their own decisions.

Were the Tsilhqot'in defending their land against trespassers? Were the whites the aggressors in this sense? That seems to be a modern reinterpretation. At the time, the Indians said they feared the white men bringing disease.

As to the papal non-apology, Father De Souza pointed out in the National Post when the present demand was made, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that Benedict XVI had already formally apologized for the Catholic involvement in the residential schools, to a Canadian Indian delegation to Rome, in 2009. This apology was not even mentioned in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

In other words, the Catholic Church has apologized, and the TRC has refused to recognize the apology. In these circumstances, what would another apology accomplish?

But then again, as with the Chilcotin Massacre, it seems to me that the Catholic Church has nothing to apologize for. The TRC accuses them of “spiritual violence.” This is a nonsense concept. The church deserves credit, instead, for being almost the only people interested in educating Indians for centuries, and the only people interested in preserving the Indian culture.

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