FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(LYTTON) B.C. is divided into armed camps. American militias fight pitched battles with the First Nations along the Fraser River while the government in Victoria watches helplessly. On a hot summer night in the hills above Lytton, with the two sides poised to fight a decisive showdown, two leaders meet around a campfire to talk peace. If they fail, a bloody war will rage from Prince George to the mouth of the Columbia in Washington Territory. The fate of modern British Columbia is in their hands.
The New Pathways to Gold Society (NPTGS) and the Lytton First Nation shine a light on a shadowy chapter in B.C.’s past with the Fraser River War Symposium, September 21-23. Organized by University of Victoria historian Dr. Dan Marshall, the conference will examine the tumultuous events of 1858, which led to a little-known war that could have escalated had it not been for the persuasive diplomacy of Chief Spintlum of the Nlaka’pamux First Nation.
This critical yet largely unexplored event in Canada’s history will be the focus of the three-day symposium in Lytton. Participants will not only hear from First Nations’ spokespeople and academics about this watershed moment in our past, they’ll learn of the lasting legacies of this conflict that are still being felt today.
“This is the first major academic symposium on the Fraser River War,” said Dr. Marshall, also Chair of the NPTGS University Caucus. “The general public is largely unaware that 1858 was not only the year in which B.C. was founded, but also a time of tremendous upheaval for First Nations, who met the threat of the Fraser River gold rush by proclaiming war on the mining population that relocated from California.”
NPTGS Co-chair Byron Spinks, Chief of the Lytton First Nation, says the symposium is an important step towards aboriginal reconciliation in B.C.
“Sharing our stories helps the reconciliation process and creates a better understanding between First Nations and other communities,” says Chief Spinks. “We have much to learn from each other.”
For instance, says Chief Spinks, most people don’t know that Native peoples were the first discoverers of gold in B.C. and had been actively mining the resource years prior to the rush of 1858. They’re also largely unaware of the courage the First Nations showed in choosing peace in 1858 in the face of great provocation by many of the miners.
Some thirty to forty thousand gold seekers flooded in to the Fraser Canyon during the rush. An all-out defence was made of indigenous land and gold, blockading the Fraser itself to foreign intrusion, culminating in the Fraser River War in August of that year. Many lives were lost, both Native and non-Native, until a peace was finally concluded in Lytton by Chief Spintlum and Henry Snyder, the Captain of the American militia forces.
The NPTGS is celebrating 2008, a significant milestone in B.C. history, marking the 200thanniversary of Simon Fraser’s journey downriver, assisted by the First Nations, and the 150th anniversary of the Fraser River gold rush and subsequent proclamation of B.C. as a Crown colony.
“To grow and prosper in a spirit of reconciliation, we must be willing to learn from the past,” said Tourism, Sport and the Arts Minister Stan Hagen. “BC150 Years is an opportunity to celebrate our achievements – but more than that, it’s a chance to reflect on our shared history with a view toward the future.”
The symposium is the first academic conference organized by the NPTGS, a community-based organization funded by BC150 Years and dedicated to continued reconciliation with First Nations, investment in B.C. heritage and economic development.
The NPTGS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through BC150 Years, a Ministry of Tourism, Sport and the Arts initiative.
BC150 Years is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Crown Colony of British Columbia in 1858. Every community in B.C. is invited to participate in this year-long celebration of B.C.’s cultural diversity, community strength and widespread achievement. For more information on BC150 Years, please visit www.BC150.gov.bc.ca.