Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Okanagan chief, Tsilaxitsa

Alexander Caulfield Anderson left Kamloops for the last time, as a fur trader at least, in 1848 when he took over the charge of Fort Colvile.
He returned to Kamloops in 1877, when he represented the Dominion of Canada's government as their Indian Reserve Commissioner.
Fellow commissioners were Archibald McKinley, a retired fur trader who farmed at Lac la Hache, and Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, an immigrant from England.
The three Commissioners could not have had more differing views of the Natives they worked with than these three men.
Archibald McKinlay thought all Natives were savages; Sproat referred to some as "doublefaced Indian chiefs."
Anderson referred to the coast Natives as "miserable fish eaters," but he admired these Interior Natives for their beauty and nobility.
But he knew Tsilaxitsa personally, and wrote in his journals that he had ridden many miles with this man.

Tsilaxitsa's name is written in various ways -- Silhitza, Chilliheetza, Chillihutza -- Anderson spelled it Sela-heetza.
Tsilaxitsa was one of the most important Okanagan chiefs of his time; his father was an Okanagan man, and his mother Chief Nicola's favorite sister who died when she was giving birth to him.
Chief Nicola adopted the infant, and Tsilaxitsa grew up in Chief Nicola's residence on Nicola Lake.
On Nicola's death, Tsilsxitsa became the nominal head of the northern branches of the Okanagan tribes and played an active role in the politics of the time, especially in relation to the land question.
Most of this information comes from 42nd Report of the Okanagan Historical Society, 1978, p. 59.
Interestingly enough, the author of this short biography did not connect Tsilaxitsa with the brigade trails.

In July 1877, Anderson wrote from Kamloops to say that "Sela-heetza, the Chief of the Okinagans, who when a young man travelled with me a good deal, and who has now attained great influence, came recently to Kamloops and visited our camp to pay his respects to the Commissioners.
"He afterwards visited me privately at my tent, and after a good deal of conversation imparted to me [some] of what has recently transpired among the natives at the General Councils that have been had."
Anderson finished his report with "Sela-heetza, I may add, is a man of much influence. Like the rest he is astute, and his words must be accepted with caution. Nevertheless, under the influence of old friendship, he has probably been as frank with me, privately, as his nature will admit."
(RG10, Volume 3651,File 8540, General Correspondence to and from the British Columbia Reserve Commission regarding reserves, 1877-1878, Canada, Dept. of Indian Affairs, Black Series, Library and Archives Canada).

From Anderson's journals: "Today Selixt-asposem (Five Hearts, also Moise), the Chief of this section of the Okinagans, and Sel-a-heetza, the Chief of the Nicolas Lake, his co-adjutor, sent a message asking for a private interview. We received them in the afternoon...
"Sel-a-heetza acting as chief spokesman, began by saying that they had come thus privately in order to talk of bygone things and of matters as they now stand. He referred to the late Chief, Nicholas, who as we well knew had always been the firm friend of the whites, and who, by all the white chiefs, including some of ourselves, had been regarded as a brother. That Nicholas on his death bed had spoken to Selixt-asposem, his son, and to him, Sel-a-heetza, his Nephew, urging upon them the observance of the same friendly line of conduct, and told them that when they looked at these medals at any time of difficulty, they must recall his dying words."

Anderson described the two medals: one, a very beautiful work of art, had on the front the head of King George III, and on the reverse side the arms of the HBC; the second medal was a coronation medal of Queen Victoria.
This was 1877 -- the first medal was probably given to Chief Nicola in 1824 by Governor George Simpson (See: Frederick Merk, Fur Trade and Empire, p. 132). I wonder where it is now?

At the end of the long meeting the two Native chiefs departed, and something special happened.
"We should here mention that up to this time (among the Okinagans) we have made it a point to offer nothing in the shape of the present, even so much as a pipe of tobacco, lest we might be slighted by a refusal; the Chiefs having intimated that they and their people were averse to accepting anything in the shape of a gratuity until their land question was in train of settlement... Today, however, Sela-heetza, of his own accord, before leaving us, asked for tobacco. This was of course at once given to him, as well as to his companion, and they left us in great good humour."
(RG10, Volume 3659, File 9500, Journal of the proceedings of the Commission for the settlement of the Indian Reserves in the Province of B. C., 1878, Canada, Dept. of Indian Affairs, Black Series, LAC)

Tsilaxitsa fascinated me, and I was fortunate enough to uncover his portrait in the Provincial archives, filed under landscapes! It can now be viewed online at the archives.
The original is hanging upstairs in the Archives in a darkened room, and when I was being shown the original of Anderson's 1867 map, I turned around to see Tsilaxitsa's portrait behind me.
The book was mostly written before I discovered how Anderson knew Tsilaxitsa so well!

Anderson was at Fort Alexandria when, in April 1847, clerk Montrose McGillivary arrived with dispatches from Fort Vancouver.
Anderson was to find a second route to Fort Langley from Kamloops, this time through the rugged canyons and rapids of the Fraser River.
Anderson set off from Kamloops on May 19, 1847, and shortly afterward set up camp at the west end of Nicola Lake, where he expected to meet his Native guide -- Blackeye's son-in-law.
Their guides were not yet there, but joined the fur traders where the Nicoamen River flowed into the Thompson.
In his journals Anderson said that: "Pahallak, the chief engaged by C.T. Yale, made his appearance shortly after our arrival accompanied by a large concourse of Indians of every age and sex."
But Tsilaxitsa must have been there too, or he joined the party later. Tsilaxitsa and Blackeye's son -- not Pahallak -- guided Anderson up the hills behind Boston Bar to the Nicola Valley on their return Journey.
At the top of the hills the parties separated, with McGillivray taking the Native guides to help bring the brigade in, while Anderson rode to Kamloops and Fort Alexandria.
It is in Anderson's written instructions to McGillivray that we discover that the Natives who accompanied the party included Blackeye's son and Tsilaxitsa.

1 comment:

  1. This article has been updated and posted on my new blog at