Decolonial Discourse: The Stó:lō Kidnapping of Indigenous People

The Fraser River gold rush kidnappings are symptomatic of violent colonization
Justin Bige, Contributor

Carved artwork by Coast Salish artist, Terry Horne. The carving commemorates the Stó:lō children who were kidnapped by miners in the 1800s. (Submitted/Professor Keith Carlson – University of Saskatchewan)

Stó:lō children used to be kidnapped for slave labour during the Fraser River gold rush of 1858, CBC News reported on Aug. 19. A historian named Keith Carlson found evidence that in that year an eight year-old Stó:lō Nation boy was taken by a miner named George Crum from California. The discovery sparked further research which uncovered the widespread practice of kidnapping children by white, Californian prospectors-turned-ranchers.

CBC also reported that this part of history was largely unknown, even to Stó:lō people. To commemorate this unearthing of violent history, Chief Terry Horne of Yeqwyeqwí:ws First Nation created a carving depicting the eight year-old boy reaching out to his father. It was installed near Hope in Chawathil First Nation’s Telte-Yet Campgrounds, a place that many  children were stolen from. This carving is part of the Lost Stories project supported by the Government of Canada’s “Canada 150” Fund.

These kidnappings weren’t an isolated event in the history of Canada or British Columbia. They represent a broader colonial practice of removing Indigenous people from their original lands, which the residential schools were a fundamental part of.

Whether you point to the residential school system that kidnapped Indigenous children to be raised in church-run schools full of physical or sexual abuse or The Sixties/Seventies Scoop of Indigenous children kidnapped into adoptive families far from home, it is clear that kidnapping Indigenous children is a practice that Canada has been used for centuries to undermine Indigenous sovereignty and colonize Indigenous lands.

These horrendous practices of cultural genocide live on today in the foster care system, which 4,400 Indigenous children in B.C. have been forced into. That number may be even higher according to a Statistics Canada report issued in 2011, and Indigenous children disproportionately account for 48 per cent of all foster children despite representing less than 7 per cent of children in Canada.

The approximate 4,000 Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada has been an unresolved issue for over 40 years. These women don’t just disappear out of thin air. They are taken and murdered by Canadians. This happens in places like the notorious Highway of Tears in B.C., a stretch of highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George, where dozens of Indigenous women and girls have been kidnapped or murdered. Then there’s the Starlight Tours of Saskatchewan, where Saskatoon Police Service officers would take Indigenous women and men out into the country at night in the freezing winter and drop them off without clothing or water.

Heading east, an alarming amount of murder has been committed, with seven bodies of Indigenous people turning up in the McIntyre River system since 2000. The 14-year-old Josiah Begg and 17-year-old Tammy Keeash were two of those seven and were found in May 2017, CBC reports. Thunder Bay police have repeatedly mismanaged those cases, just as they have mismanaged numerous cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

So, while the news of the gold rush kidnappings came as a shock to many, practices like these are hardly surprising. When there is consistent proof from 1858 to 2017 of Indigenous people being kidnapped, used as labour, raised in white environments, killed by their captors’ violence or negligence, and having their deaths and disappearances mismanaged by authorities, the problem is clear. And it is a colonial problem.