Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the day a Scottish tourist named David Stuart stepped out of a canoe and mooched dinner from the locals. Much as a weary traveller today would be thankful for finding a nice B&B after a long day on the road, he must have welcomed a wee home-cooked meal and a comfy place to stay.
A brief history is in order. The natives are said to have called the place “Kamloops,” or, as it’s now known, “Tk’emlups,” meaning “meeting of the waters,” or something close.
Stuart, though, not being particularly imaginative, decided to name the river after his friend David Thompson instead. Then he built a monster house and called it Fort Kamloops.
Despite the hospitality with which the natives greeted the newcomers, it hasn’t all been roses. In the 1700s and 1800s, fur traders weren’t always impressed with their First Nations hosts. They regarded them as backward and untrustworthy.
Sometimes, particularly in the depths of winter when food was scarce, this lack of trust was validated when horses and cows would start disappearing from the trading post’s herds.
The colonists were convinced the Indians were wasting resources — they weren’t farming or mining the land — so the Europeans may as well take advantage of opportunities.
One of the things they took was native wives, usually without benefit of a legal marriage. When it came time to retire from the Hudson’s Bay Company, the factor simply dumped his native bride and children and returned to the wife and kids back home in Scotland or England.
By the mid-19th century, the fur trade was on the wane, and the HBC turned from making beaver hats to selling blankets and souvenirs.
The Indians didn’t realize they were sitting on top of a gold mine — literally. The gold miners who poured off the ships were short on manners, and unpleasantries ensued. When smallpox arrived with the miners, thousands of natives suffered agonizing deaths.
Meanwhile, back in Kamloops, more white guys came. They built a bridge, painted it red, and used it to get across to the Secwepemc side so they could tell the band members how much land they were allowed to keep, and to build a big brick residential school to “educate” their children.
When two villages grow up so close together, even if a river separates them, their history becomes intertwined. By virtue of that history, as well as geography, it’s in both their interests to get along.
It hasn’t been easy, even in more recent years. In the 1970s, for example, a charismatic young man named Norman LaRue was elected chief by three votes. When the Dept. of Indian Affairs told the band it would have to hold a new election, LaRue and some of his supporters occupied the DIA offices downtown.
A few years ago, reflecting long-held political differences, some members of City council refused to sign a goodwill pact with the band.
Yet, there have been significant cultural and economic agreements, and the relationship is surprisingly strong. The theme for today’s celebration, “two rivers, two peoples, 200 years” is appropriate, and a lot catchier than “celebrating the day those European guys came and took everything.”
Today truly is a celebration — of a relationship that has survived a path strewn with bumps and potholes and has endured as a genuine friendship.