Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Removing the name Trutch from BC

I have been meaning to write this for a number of years now because Joseph Trutch was a nasty unethical racist by 19th century standards and should not have his name anywhere in any honour.

Joseph Trutch was a man in BC from 1859 to 1895 that completely blurred the line between government and business.   He seems to have made himself wealthy through acquiring lands along the route the Cariboo Road that he was surveying.

His appointment as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for BC in 1864 was clearly a conflict of interest because of his contracts with government and his land holdings.   People at the time saw there was a conflict.   He used his position to benefit friends and family but worst of all he used his position to engage in a vendetta with the First Nations of BC.

I have no idea what First Nations in BC did to Trutch, but he certainly did not like them and went out of his way to screw them over.  I suspect he was just a racist of the worst kind.  Certainly he did not like the country wives of a number or the old HBC factors.

From my work over the last 17 years I know the background and history of the interior Salish First Nations like the St'at'imc, Secwempemc, Okanagan and Nlaka'pamux quite well.  I have also read a large portion of the government correspondence from colonial BC.

In the 1860s the First Nations of the interior of BC were capable of taking part in the white economy successfully and various Okanagan First Nation ranchers are only one proof of this.   The fifty year history of trade and business in the interior before Trutch had worked well.  I think of some of the stories that come of out Ts'kw'aylacw or Xaxli'p near Lillooet and how they integrated the HBC into the existing trading economy.

Trutch wrote in 1871 "I have not yet met with a single Indian whom I consider to have attained even the most glimmering perception of the Christian creed.".   Since I know he had dealings Secwepemc and Okanagan chiefs that were devote and long term members of the Catholic church I know he is lying through his teeth.   I am sure that some of the Chiefs that spoke seven languages fluently and could read and write were still considered savages by him.

The biggest impact he had on BC was to create close to a century and half of conflict between First Nations and government.   He was fully aware that the Crown was required to sign Treaties with First Nations but not only did not he work towards more Treaties, he unilaterally reneged on the existing Treaties while he was Chief Commissioner of Land and Works in BC.   He also managed to convince the Federal government that BC had settled the "Indian Land Question" as part of the terms of union.

Trutch also opposed the idea of responsible government - he did not think the public could be trusted to elect the government.

I know looking back at the 19th century you can not expect people to have acted the way they should have based on our current more advanced understanding of ethics and morality, but by terms of the 19th century Joseph Trutch was unethical, racist and immoral.   I have read a lot of the colonial correspondence and no other colonial official comes close to being like Trutch.  You can read about him over and over again in the British Colonist, though I admit Amor De Cosmos was not neutral journalist when it came to Trutch.

I can not think of any redeeming features of this man and he certainly did not merit getting his name on the map 100 years ago.   What does it say to us today that the worst offender of the 19th century gets commemoration and much more deserving people are forgotten?   The only reason his name continues to be used is because so few people know anything about him.

At the moment there is a spot on the Alaska Highway that is named for him.  There is also a creek, an island and mountain named for him.

In Victoria and Vancouver there are a Trutch streets

UVic has a  building in the Lansdowne residence called Trutch.

In my ideal world I would like to see his knighthood retroactively revoked.

As long as we are going to name things for people, we have a responsibility to ensure we know who they were.   We also take a responsibility for their views.   If one is not ignorant, keeping the name Trutch for anything is tacit approval of his views.
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