Cadboro Bay land claim could unearth lost history

Court cases won or lost on archive documents from around the world

As the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations prepare to take on senior level governments over compensation for the alleged loss of village land in Cadboro Bay 160 years ago, local experts in ethnology and archaeology are preparing to be called on in the case.

Grant Keddie, curator of archaeology at the Royal B.C. Museum, testified in a 2006 B.C. Supreme Court battle over the land on which the legislature sits, which ended in a $31.5-million out-of-court settlement for the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

While he can’t comment on the specifics of the current case, he knows what to expect during hearings that hinge on pre-photographic evidence: ethnographic information, historic documents, drawings, maps and oral histories.

“How do you decide whose information is correct and whose isn’t?” Keddie said. “It isn’t an easy question. You have to look at many sources of information and judge the relevancy of each one and really understand what the nature of that information is. There’s lots of information probably hidden in archives all over the world that people still haven’t found.”

If a new discovery comes to light during the research into the current Cadboro Bay lawsuit, it wouldn’t be the first time. During the legislature land case, a British researcher sent Keddie a drawing of an encampment outside Fort Victoria that had been sketched by a British naval officer in 1851.

The sketch depicted a temporary village occupied by a visiting First Nation from south of the U.S. border and was used to establish which First Nations were living in the region at the time. Keddie called the discovery of the sketch “nirvana.”

“Here’s a drawing of this encampment, exactly where I said it was. Not only do we have the picture, but we know within a week as to when it was actually drawn.”

In the case of the legislative building, Sir James Douglas penned a letter explaining the intention to have an aboriginal reserve and a map outlining where it was to be located. However in Cadboro Bay only piecemeal information exists so far, Keddie said.

First Nations were known to live around Loon Bay, near the current site of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, during the time the Douglas treaties were penned in 1850, Keddie noted, but whether or not they lived in a traditional village or on Hudson’s Bay Company property, where they may have worked on the dairy farm, is yet to be determined.

“Nothing’s ever simple. Every time you get information, there are possibly two or three ways that information can be interpreted,” Keddie said. “There’s stuff hidden in archives around the world that’s still relevant to the history of British Columbia and also relevant to some of these court cases.”

The Esquimalt and Songhees lawsuits will likely be heard together in B.C. Supreme Court for at least 60 days beginning in May 2013.



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