Geist - - Geist - Randy Fred

Are you tired yet of hear­ing the name “Trump”? He has sparked much con­tro­versy and much dis­cus­sion. His talk of build­ing a fence across the Us−mex­i­can bor­der is strange but brings to mind the long his­tory of mi­gra­tion of First Na­tions work­ers on the BC coast and in­te­rior.

For Indige­nous peo­ple, there is no ab­so­lute bor­der. The po­lit­i­cal Us−canada bor­der vir­tu­ally splits ev­ery Indige­nous na­tion along the line: Bri­tish Columbia na­tions from the Nuu-chah-nulth on the west side of BC to the Koote­nay on the east side all stretch beyond the 49th par­al­lel in both di­rec­tions. The Jay Treaty, signed Novem­ber 19, 1794, by the United States and Great Bri­tain, con­firmed the right of “In­di­ans” on both sides of the Us−canada bor­der to cross the line for em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, in­vest­ing and other pur­poses. This right was trans­ferred to the US Im­mi­gra­tion and Na­tion­al­ity Act of 1952, re­vised in 1965. To­day, sur­pris­ingly, the “In­dian” terms elim­i­nat­ing the bor­der are hon­oured by the US but not by Canada. So it is no has­sle for a Cana­dian First Na­tions per­son to work in the United States, but a huge has­sle for an Amer­i­can In­dian to work in Canada.

The fur trade changed the life­styles of First Na­tions peo­ple all across west­ern North Amer­ica. By the time a trad­ing post was es­tab­lished in Fort St. James in BC’S north, in 1806, the mar­itime har­vest and trade of furbear­ing an­i­mals had been ac­tive from Alaska to Mex­ico for years. Sev­eral coun­tries had ships all along the coast buying sea ot­ter

and seal­skin pelts, among other furs. First Na­tions hunters were re­cruited to head north to ar­eas as far away as Alaska to har­vest seals and sea ot­ters with their spe­cially de­signed ca­noes. Alaska was still owned by Rus­sia in those days, so there was no con­cern about mi­grant work­ers.

This mi­gra­tion of First Na­tions peo­ple for eco­nomic rea­sons, along with con­tact with Euro­peans, af­fected the life­styles and cul­tures of the Indige­nous peo­ples. New styles of dress were adopted, as well as new kinds of food; and the cap­ture of large quan­ti­ties of wildlife for the en­rich­ment of Euro­pean traders put na­ture off bal­ance. First Na­tions peo­ple were in­tro­duced to new forms of trade based on greed rather than need.

Large mi­gra­tions of Indige­nous peo­ple also took place well into the 1960s. Berry farm­ers, vegetable farm­ers, fruit or­chardists and hops grow­ers from Wash­ing­ton State hired BC Na­tives to pick their fruits and veg­eta­bles for com­mer­cial sale. Th­ese em­ploy­ers had to pro­vide food and lodg­ing for their pick­ers, so many in­di­vid­u­als and whole fam­i­lies from BC moved to Wash­ing­ton State for en­tire sum­mers and into the fall sea­son to har­vest the pro­duce.

The Nez Perce tribe of­ten moved from Wash­ing­ton State to Ver­non, BC, to pick fruit and hops. This trek must have seemed straight­for­ward for this group. In 1877, after re­fus­ing to leave their an­ces­tral lands and re­lo­cate to a reser­va­tion in Idaho, the Nez Perce had at­tempted to reach Canada from Ore­gon and barely es­caped slaugh­ter by the US Cav­alry. They had nearly made it when Chief Joseph was forced to sur­ren­der, and the tribe was forcibly di­vided and re­lo­cated to var­i­ous US states.

In the 1960s, when I was a young­ster on the Tse­shaht Re­serve in Port Al­berni, BC, a school bus went rid­ing around pick­ing up res­i­dents to move to Va­chon Is­land and other Wash­ing­ton State farms to har­vest pro­duce, earn­ing money for the sum­mer and into the fall. I was too young to go along, and I was en­vi­ous of my older broth­ers and sis­ters who got to go on such an ad­ven­ture with our aunt. One of my broth­ers, a fun-lov­ing teenager, told me it was more fun than work. I heard sev­eral sto­ries about il­le­git­i­mate children be­ing con­ceived at berry farms. I also heard some scary sto­ries about phys­i­cal fights amongst pick­ers of dif­fer­ent races.

The mi­gra­tion of BC and US work­ers in the agri­cul­ture and fur trades gave rise to an in­ter­change of cul­tures among First Na­tions peo­ple, and con­tact with Euro­peans af­fected daily life. For­tu­nately, the fact that Canada and the US re­lied on each other’s work­ers for their economies did not gen­er­ate a de­sire to build a wall be­tween us.

Randy Fred is a Nuu-chah-nulth Elder. He is the founder of They­tus Books, the first Abo­rig­i­nal-owned and op­er­ated book pub­lish­ing house in Canada. He has worked in pub­lish­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for forty years. Fred has won gold at the Cana­dian na­tional blind lawn bowl­ing cham­pi­onships five times. He lives in Nanaimo.

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