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Indian War

Some degree of alarm exists for fear that an Indian war is imminent. We do not apprehend an outbreak very soon. If there should be any, it is somewhat remote. The sanguinary death of the two Hydah chiefs may lead the Hydahs to avenge their deaths; and many unsuspecting persons may yet pay with their lives for what at most was an unfortunate occurrence. What we fear most is the new Indian policy, to subject the Indians within our settlements to our laws. Formerly, owing to the few men in the forts of the Company, it has been the policy to buy off the Indians by donations of blankets. A case of this kind occurred here about fifteen months ago, when a white man killed an Indian at the north end of the town. The Indians were consequently excited, and Gov. Douglas ordered a considerable number of blankets to be given them to appease their anger; and Edensaw, the Queen Charlotte chief, departed satisfied. The custom of buying immunity from wrong is a very old one among more highly civilized people; and one that has been adopted down to a very late date. Petty states and cities have been compelled to ransom themselves, or pay tribute to escape with their lives and a portion of their property. Of two evils, it was deemed advisable to choose the least; and we cannot well see how such a policy can be condemned, when viewed from surrounding circumstances. In the United States, the policy of paying the Indian tribes not to go to war has been gravely broached, though only partially carried out, by paying them to relinquish their hunting grounds to the pale-faces. Still, of the enormous sums expended there on Indian wars, perhaps a moiety would have sufficed to purchase immunity from the stealthy attacks of the savage, ending only in loss of life to the dominant race, and extermination to the barbarians. It is difficult, however, to see clearly how we could ransom ourselves, were an alliance formed for the destruction of our settlements by the tribes to the north, or how we could prosper and yet successfully defend ourselves. Living as the Indians do chiefly on the shore, the naval forces might follow and punish them severely; but the intense hatred thus created in the savage beast would only give rise to assassinations as our settlements advanced, and laying the foundation for undying hostility. Our policy evidently is rather to foster the hostility of tribe to tribe. In their division lies our strength; in their union our danger. By division, in case of outbreak, friendly tribes could be impressed into our service; but did they know their own power and unite, without a strong military and naval force, we could never make them sue for submission, or escape a long and bloody Indian war.

The sad consequences to our prosperity of an Indian war are too apparent to need narration. Our new policy, therefore, ought to be wisely and cautiously inaugurated. To change from paying tribute to the Indians to repelling force by force, should not be too sudden. Neither should the Indians within our settlement, who have hitherto been allowed to exact “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” be subjected without due and timely notice to punishment for an infringement of our laws. It would be an injustice. After the chiefs and tribes have been properly and understandingly warned of the penalties for robbery and murder, and to desist from shedding blood, then such scenes as have been lately enacted could be punished with some show of justice. Even the well disposed, and those inclined to trade rather than shed blood, would be convinced of the justice of the pale-faces; and their own rude justice and desire to trade with us, would assist not only in dividing tribe against tribe, but the warriors against warriors in the same tribe, and enable us to gradually reduce them to tame subjection.

The exclusive trade with the Northern Indians possessed by the Hudson Bay Company must suffer severely within a brief period. The attractive town, and the greater opportunities for barter, as well as employment, will induce the Indians to visit us rather than stay at home and trade with their old customers. For a long period yet to come we may expect a large Indian population in our midst as occasional visitors; and however undesirable, it will be difficult to entirely prevent them. We can, however, lessen the danger to ourselves by enacting a stringent law against selling to them spirits, arms, or ammunition. The initiative in the first has been taken by the Assembly; and we hope that it will be followed by a law in both colonies to effectually prevent the latter. Objections against not selling them arms on the ground that they could not obtain a living if deprived of them, carries with it but little weight. If our security can be increased, no scruple should be expressed as to the Indians. Let them do as they did before arms and ammunition was sold to them, or before they had learned their use. Everybody remembers the Arms Act of Ireland; and if Irishmen could not trusted (sic) with arms, we cannot see any good reason why savages should.

Reprinted from The British Colonist, July 10, 1860.