Images of people change with time. Here is John Chukuaskin Ashnola’s grave from Upper Keremeos. He became chief of the Ashnola people in 1866, until his death some fifty years later. He negotiated honourably for decades for land for his people and had an honoured gravesite on the edge of town, but now the town has been torn down for scrap, the creek and its forest in behind have been levelled, a ceremonial avenue of honey locusts has been cut down for firewood, the graves of his braves at his feet have been raked for arrow heads, the gravesite has been recently mined for gravel, and the cross has been knocked off. And yet at one time John was felt deserving of an expensive marble monument.
I like to think he’s in the Beetle, trying to get it started for a quick exit. Photo taken in 2009.
That’s the Canadian version. Here’s the American one: Chief Joseph’s grave in the Nez Perce graveyard in Nespelem, Washington:
Joseph remains honoured by hundreds of people today, with gifts of tobacco, books, tools, money, flowers, mirrors, artworks, stones, and other emblems, talismans and useful an beautiful things. Photo taken in 2009.
And isn’t that just the thing. The well-known history of settler-aboriginal relations in the northern American West is that Joseph and his people were driven close to the brink of mass slaughter by hangers-on of the US Army, while heroically and honourably trying to escape to Canada. The well-known story of settler-aboriginal relations in Canada is that John and his people made peaceful transfers of power built upon mutual respect. Peaceful, yes, and respectful locally, perhaps, but the Americans, with more to grieve, are a century ahead in terms of respect in a larger sense. The thing is, back in the 1920s, we all seem to have been at the same place. Now Canadians are going to have to look south for wisdom and experience in what to do a century later, once the romantic veneer has worn off.
Let’s start by paying John some respect. He made it his life’s calling.