Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Scotty on Denman: the smallpox epidemic, killed so many people, the canoes were started then forgotten until we showed up a hundred years later.


1 comment:

scotty on denman said...
We were developing some timber on private land on an island near Bella Bella. Part of the job was to recognize what used to be called "Indian Trees"---now called "Culturally Modified Trees" or CMTs --- western red cedar trees, usually still alive, from which planks or bark were periodically harvested. For us it affected road location and cutting boundaries: if a CMT was pre-1864, we had to stay 300 metres away from it, and post-1864 only 100 metres away. We'd note the CMTs on the map and give it to a team of ethno-archaeologists to determine the date of "modification", that is, the removal of bark or planks, and often holes burned into the bole to test for soundness---these were being considered for canoes. We had occasion to wonder why exactly we were developing timber in an area where you literally couldn't find a spot where at least one CMT wasn't visible.

It occurred to me one day, high up on a mountain, eating lunch beside a skinny, twisted red cedar, that the pattern of CMT distribution illustrated proprietorial working of the forest: why would anybody come all the way up here, maybe a kilometre of steep, broken ground to the water, to strike a plank off a shitty little pecker-pole cedar when there were (and still are) plenty of much better candidates down by the water's edge? The answer is because the trees down by the water were owned by somebody else; the poor guy who had to crawl all the way up there to get a difficult, twisted plank wasn't allowed to harvest lower down---it didn't belong to him and he didn't have permission from the owner(s).

Hung out with the ethno-archaeologists one afternoon. Quite interesting the techniques they used to determine the age of the working, like was it done by metal or stone axe? was it burned down or chopped down (some CMTs are stumps ). But man! those guys were expensive, about $1600 per day, maybe assess two or three CMTs. Meanwhile each one of us engineers would note dozens and dozens of CMTs every single day. They're virtually everywhere up there. Heiltsuk territory. Wet, no forest fires to destroy evidence of primitive workings. We only needed to know pre-or-post-1864 but they estimated some of the workings to be several hundred years old---count the annual rings in the scar tissue around the edges of the working.

Another disturbing realization on Nootka Island was the reason why all these canoes, about ten of them, had been started but abandoned: it was the smallpox epidemic, killed so many people, the canoes were started then forgotten until we showed up a hundred years later. It was a ghostly realization. 


Danneau said...

Just made my day! I recognize Scotty on Denman from the CoalWatch days, I think, and it's always a pleasure to run across a simple little piece that has personal interest and that mushrooms out into contemplation on several levels and broad spectrums of echo through history and geography. Thanks, BlBoCol and Scotty.

Lucky P said...

Yikes! This confirms so much of my own research in the lower mainland (especially Bowen Island), the Squamish system, The Cariboo and central Vancouver island. THANKS FOR THIS.