A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-18
In the spring of 1864 a series of killings sent a chill across Canada. The blood of 14 men, spilled into the Homathco River before dawn on the morning of April 29th, 1864, was only the beginning of this conflict. By the end of May, 19 road-builders, packers, and a farmer were dead. Within six weeks an army of over 100 men had arrived in the area to catch the killers.
The killings took place in a remote triangle in central British Columbia that, at the time, was inaccessible by road or even horse trail. The dead men had all been part of the teams trying to build a road from the Pacific coast to the recently discovered goldfields of the Cariboo.
This area was traditional territory of the Tsilhqot’in people who had lived on the high Chilcotin Plateau for centuries, perhaps for thousands of years. The survivors of the attacks identified the principal leader of the more than 20 people involved in the killings as a Tsilhqot’in chief, who was called “Klatsassin” by his people.
Was this violent conflict an early attempt by First Nations in Canada to assert their legal right to their lands — to their nationhood? Did members of the Chilcotin First Nation kill 17 members of a British road-building crew moving through their territory in 1864 to protect the “national” sovereignty of the Chilcotin nation? Perhaps the motives were more cultural and less political: was it an attempt to protect the Chilcotin culture and way of life from outside forces? Or, as some historians have suggested, were the Chilcotin people lashing out against these non-Natives for reasons that had little to do with politics and cultural preservation?
In this MysteryQuest, you are asked to take on the role of an historian creating a public monument to commemorate the Chilcotin War of the 1860s. Your main task is to investigate to what extent this war was an attempt to protect a “nation” from invaders.
First, you will examine definitions of “nation” and learn about the two meanings of this term. Then, you will be introduced to the facts of the Chilcotin War. You will refer to an historical overview and maps to get a snapshot of the key events in the group’s history and insight into the relationship between the Chilcotin people and developers who were determined to access the rich resources of the British Columbia interior. You will then examine a number of primary documents from the period, looking for evidence of the Chilcotin motivations for this conflict. Your final task is to prepare a statement on the extent to which this was a war for nationhood. Your ideas will be used by an historical panel investigating the causes of the Chilcotin War to create a plaque commemorating the event.