17. How to Enslave the Land and the Water if You Are British: a Guide for Colonists

This is the fourth in a series of notes on the practice of transferring human slavery to land slavery. This one is a compound method that includes a fair bit of human slavery as well. It also has the ability to appear like its opposite, freedom, so watch closely.

   • American citizens camp in Smalqmex territory and call themselves British citizens.

Smalqmex Illahie

Smalqmex territory is not a requirement. It can be anywhere. 30,000 men of this kind, for instance, camped in Nlaka’pamux Territory…

Nlaka’pamux Illahie

The gravel bar in the middle left has been named “Chapman’s Bar” after a gold claim during the Fraser Valley War of 1858. This is one of the great ancestral fisheries of the Pacific Northwest, now reduced greatly in size by infill from the railroad above. It was one of the economic powerhouses of pre-colonial society, in the way Wall Street is today. Now it appears to be the wilderness that the miner’s in their ignorance saw. The Smalqmex continue to trade here, however.

… in 1858 after pushing north from Hope. They started off by shooting everyone in sight, including with early machine guns, but were happy to accept British Territorial rule when it was offered in the form of 6 Royal Marines. Those were largely ceremonial (6 against 30,000!!!). More vital was the promise that British law would keep the peace and allow safe mining in what had become a guerilla war.

They might as well have been a group of Marine Rangers in Vietnam in 1968. Whatever the case, you weren’t going to get a lot of gold dug out between flood season and freeze up this way.

Through this deal, the Hudson’s Bay Company exchanged its ceremonial mercantile relationships with the Syilx, the Secwepemc and the Nlaka’pamux (and others) for British law, and its relationship to the land for a relationship to American entrepreneurs. Even today, land use regulations are set to control the unregulated incursion of people rather than to assist the land and its people (including human ones) from prospering. When you’re dealing with humans, you have to think of things like that. The contemporary solution is to stock lakes with hatchery-raised trout, so that local harvesting responsibilities need not be addressed.

The September Fishery on Big Bar Lake

In one sense, the deal honoured old ceremonial relationships Governor James Douglas did not abandon his former trading partners. Neither, though, did he honour a pillar of that relationship: a support of Indigenous sovereignty. The bind continues today. Most people in British Columbia are squatting within the protection of law, and hold multiple identities in relation to law, but not necessarily in relation to the land. When one says, for example, “I am a British Columbian”, it means either that one is a citizen of the Canadian province (since 1871) British Columbia, or that one is a citizen of that part of land and history of the region once called the Columbia District of the Hudson’s Bay Company and called “British Columbia” after an American-British treaty line was formalized along the 49th Parallel in 1846. If you wish to call yourself something other than a “Canadian” or a “British Columbian”, however, to more accurately represent your relationship to the land, you have little else to fall back on than to call yourself a Cascadian, meaning that you are a creature of a vast bioregion stretching from Yellowstone to Northern California and the crest of the Rockies to Southern Yukon and Alaska.

Cascadia. North America’s largest watershed.

The term attempts to escape the difficulties of laying either Canadian or American notions over Native Space by going for planetary space instead. There is something to this. I, for example, feel profoundly at home anywhere in Cascadia. It’s difficult, however, to declare that the colonial period over, however, when colonial compromises, however well-meaning, continue, with land, water and Indigenous people still locked in an improvised British adaptation to the reality of American presence.

   • When given laws of pre-emption they did not set themselves, the new British citizens of the 1860s simply ignore them, on the principle that possession on paper trumps possession of land and water.

A good example is the manner in which settlers such as Frances Xavier Richter (A Bohemian, a German Czech, an Austro-Hungarian, an American, a British Citizen and then a Canadian… all in one lifetime!) ignored laws set to ensure adequate land was set aside for Indigenous people and with the full collusion of clerks in the colonial office in Victoria who shared their point of view, squatted on Smalqmex land.

F.X. Richter

Should more land or water be desired, marry into an indigenous family under the terms of indigenous law and convert the land and water into a paper title under colonial law. Then divorce your indigenous wife, erasing indigenous land title.

You can refresh your memory of Frank’s switcheroo here:ʷulaxʷ-into-land-person-and-then-property/

Note, however, that more land will always be desired, because your colonial form of industry, cattle ranching, is inappropriate to the land . The only way to maintain it is through consolidation and expansion (which continues today). On the one hand, the effort to create a White society to replace an Indigenous one requires many settlers, lured in by cheap land grants and visions of self-suffiency on farms of a few hundred acres. On the other hand, those farms were unsustainable and soon led to large accumulations, like the 10,000 acres of the O’Keefe Ranch at Head of the Lake. Three acres per adult male head of a household were allocated to the Syilx.

Grassland is so small on Okanagan Indian Band lands that it was overgrazed down to nothing long ago. Racism has ecological consequences.

Ironically, the big grasslands of British Columbia are still extant because of large, consolidated ranches. Wherever they have been broken up into small holdings, the grasslands are gone. The large ranches were not the original colonial goal, yet they paid for the colonial administration in ways that more environmentally sound land use could not, while the original colonial goal, small holdings, were at first unable to pay for the colonial administration or even survive under it but now fully meet its goals: to replace Indigenous-land relationships with purely financial ones, at the price of land health. Racism has ecological consequences for everyone.

   • Complete the transformation by setting a new water law that erases all former title and replaces it with paper title, that favours White industrialists and landowners.

You can refresh your memory on this story here: only were water and land allotted on a first-settler-to-register-it basis, but this registration was inheritable, which is to say that land and water were bound forever. Indigenous people, however, were also bound to certain reserved tracts of land — as the property of Canada. The slavery of land and water are not lesser. What’s more, in this dry country, land without water cannot support life in an excess that can be sold for profit. That’s serious.

   • When water is contested, use the new paper law to declare indigenous law a quaint form of history.

This pattern is particularly effective against things like the following passage from the Syilx Water Declaration:

Syilx peoples assert that siwɬkw has the right to be recognized as a familial entity, a relation, and a being with a spirit who provides life for all living things. Siwɬkw must be treated with honour, respect and reciprocity. We care for, protect and honour our relationship and bond with siwɬkw through our Syilx Laws, customs, traditions and practices.

And even moreso against this one:

siwɬkw is not a resource or a commodity.

No, but water is. Terribly, the inappropriate term, “Water”, must be used in contemporary life to get any understanding from dominant society. It’s a mistranslation, though.

Currently, in Syilx Territory, siwɬkw, disguised as water, is kept as a slave, behind (to name just a few of its chains):

Aberdeen Lake Dam, Beaver Lake Dam, Beth Lake Dam, Blue Lake Dam, Bonaparta Lake Dam, Brilliant Dam, BX Creek Dam, Chief Joseph Dam, Chute Lake Dam, Coldstream Creek Dam, Conconully Dam, Crazy Rapids Dam, Davis Lake Dam, Deer Creek Dam, Enloe Dam, Duteau Creek Dam, The Enloe Dam, Fanchers Dam, Fish Lake Dam, the Gebbers Dams, Goldp-Paradise Dam, Grizzly Dam, Grand Coulee Dam, Haddo Dam, Horse Spring Coulee Dam, Indian Dan Canyon Dam, Kalamalka Lake Dam, Kenleyside Dam, Libby Lake Dam, Little Green Lake Dam, Loup Loup Dam, McIntyre Dam, Moccasin Lake Dam, Okanagan Falls Dam, Okanagan Lake Dam, the Oliver Weirs, Owhi Lake Dam, Patterson Lake Dam, The Peters Reservoirs, Rat Lake Dam, Roylance Dam, Salmon Creek Diversion Dam, Salmon Lake Dam, Sasse Reservoir Dam, Schallow Lake Dam, Seatons Lake Dam, Seven Mile Dam, The Similkameen Dikes, The Sinlahekin Dams, South Slocan Dam, Spectacle Lake Dike Dam, Stout Reservoir Dam, Waneta Dam, Wells Dam, the Wenner Lake Dams, Whitestone Lake Dam, The Wright Ponds Dams, Yellow Lake Dam, Zosels Mill Pond Dam.

Nk’mip salmon trying to breach the Okanagan Falls Dam

However, as the Government of British Columbia puts it in The Water Sustainability Act of 2014:

The property in and the right to the use and flow of all the water at any time in a stream in British Columbia are for all purposes vested in the government.

And so the water is enslaved and the people with it. They lack the ability to exercise free will. Douglas felt forced to accept the 1858 California miner’s water law to keep the peace.


Next: a discussion of some of the peculiarities of water slavery. Until then, some free water, and an upside down world in it. Just so you know where we’re going, eh.

Big Bar Lake, Secwepemc Illahie

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