First Peoples

6. Converting tmxʷulaxʷ into “Land” & “Person” and then Property

After watching the dowries of two women, Lucy Simla and Florence Louden, become transformed into ownership over the last 2 posts, today we’ll take a bit of time to track the continued enslavement of the first, Lucy’s tmxʷulaxʷ, into the 20th century, because the story simply doesn’t end with marriage. Whatever was going on, in the years before and after acquiring Lucy’s birthright…

… Richter and his friends (?) traded pieces of the other tmxʷulaxʷ he controlled, Tah-la-basket’s, between each other in a real-life poker game.

The south-western end of the Hudson’s Bay Company preemption is in the foreground. Tahlabasket is behind, and off to the left.

The settlers Richter, Cawston, Barcelo, Mendoza, Manery, Tweddle, Supprenault, Ellis and Roi all eventually sat at the table that the Government of the Colony of British Columbia set up for them in the grass. Except for Roi (a special case who we will meet again later), they all held deeds to part or all of Terbasket’s tmxʷulaxʷ and profited from the sale of that deed, even though the tmxʷulaxʷ or even the English translation of it, land, can’t be “owned”. Contemporary “owners” of “land” in the valley are still trading in these deeds and the rights they confer within British Columbian culture. They’re not trading in tmxʷulaxʷ and the obligations one has to it. They are standing on Richter’s shoulders. Or maybe this guy’s:

Tom Ellis

As the Irish cattle baron controlling most of the Okanagan Valley (along with those other Irishmen O’Keefe at Head of the Lake and Haynes at sẁiẁs, one story places him as advising Richter that the Okanagan was full, and then intructing him to claim Tahlabasket’s promised reserve instead.

Here’s a summary, so you can see how this kind of poker is played when the table is made of grass and dust and the fire people, trees:

  • Richter and Roi arrive in the Similkameen with 42 head of cattle in 1862.
  • Two years later, Richter has claimed the reserve set aside for Tah-la-basket and his herd. He employs Tah-la-basket.
  • In other words, Tahlabasket’s intimate relationship with the tmxʷulaxʷ and his responsibilities to it have been transferred to Richter. His obligations are to profit from the land and contribute to a non-Indigenous economy. The process is not set up to care for the tmxʷulaxʷ, and doesn’t. Power makes the distinction invisible.
  • Over the next twenty-two years, Richter sells his deed that covers Tah-la-basket’s tmxʷulaxʷ to Cawston, Barcelo, Mendoza and Manery. The tmxʷulaxʷ, however, has not been sold. They have only purchased a relationship to British Columbia. Tah-la-basket’s relationship to the tmxʷulaxʷ remains.
  • By this time, Richter is living on (and has title to) Lucy’s tmxʷulaxʷ between Kobau Mountain and the US-Canadian border.
  • Sixteen years later, he leaves Lucy on the land with his sons, so he can, ahem, walk through Florence’s rose garden. He does not relinquish his claim to it.

There’s a mystery behind those 42 head of cattle that started it all, but we’ll get to that later.

This simple but cunning game went on for a long time. After many deals and even a few cards up the players’ sleeves (one of which was called “The British Columbia Water Act” of 1909), Lucy’s relationship to the tmxʷulaxʷ was eventually “sold” as “land” (with no funds to Lucy) and, in 1923 Paul Terbasket was locked in jail for watering his fruit trees up against the mountain. By that time, this family story, traditionally known as “The Place of Yellow Flowers,” was no longer called “Tah-la-basket.” It was now officially called “Blind Creek Indian Reserve #7.”     

Paul’s only remaining tree, an Apricot, shows where his orchard once was.

The vineyard is on Reserve land, leased out, I have been told, to pay off a debt. The original plan was for a golf course, but the family women stood up against that. If you want to take space from Indigenous people, there are many ways.

Here are some clever deals that have been made in this trading of the tmxʷulaxʷ as if it were a card in a stacked deck:

  • The land and Paul no longer carried the same name on Canadian maps. 
  • In Canadian “law”, a “reserve” was owned by “Canada” and managed by Canada in the name of its people, after being officially established by a province. Canada assigned itself this managerial responsibility when it acquired British Columbia in 1871, but since the British Columbian government did not enact reserves in British Columbian “law” until 1938, in the intervening time reserves were effectively managed by playing one set of laws against the other. 

That’s how native land is converted into property, a conversion that continues to this day, given that for 67 years there was no law at all, professed or otherwise, and, ultimately, no one was “responsible.” They sure weren’t. A question remains:

How can one have a relationship to the tmxʷulaxʷ, unless one addresses the way in which it became “land”? Something of oneself became invisible at the same time (as did Florence and Lucy within the culture of the times.) We will be looking at this lingering invisibility more closely in Chapter 10.

~

In Chapter 7, we’ll look more closely at the mysteries surrounding Paul’s trial. Until then, a traditional foodstuff from The Place of Yellow Flowers, to keep the tmixʷ alive in your heart:

Mrí’mstn. Desert Parsley (Lomatium Geyeri).

She’s still alive and well, providing spring vitamins although her yellow sisters, wild carrot and wild celery, have all been grazed off. Note how the snow and rain from one stone have kept her alive in a desert of water-stealing cheatgrass brought by cattlemen to the Plateau. By 1871, it was everywhere, doing its nasty work and accentuating the cattle disaster that preceded (and may have precipitated?) Frances and Florence’s marriage in 1894.

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