We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

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The Indian and the Law

The North Pacific Times, December 10, 1864.

The news which we published in our last issue, of the suspicious movements of the Indians in the neighbourhood of William’s Lake, has naturally caused much anxiety, and it becomes the duty of the Government to take immediate steps to insure the safety of life and property in the threatened district. The wisest policy to be adopted with regard to aboriginal tribes has long been a subject of doubt and hesitation in all countries where the savage nomads are numerous and restless. There always has been, and probably there always will be, a class of people who are so very tender-hearted in everything concerning the “poor Indian,” that they not infrequently fail in according justice to their own race, through fear of being accused of tyranny or harshness towards the redskins. To use a homely illustration, these gentlemen walk so very upright that they are in danger of falling over backwards.

It is doubtless the duty of a wise and humane Government to extend the protection of the law to those ignorant beings who live within its jurisdiction, but the fact of their ignorance should be no reason for attempting to stretch points in their favour which would never be mooted where white men were concerned. Wise men, and men of great experience in the habits and mode of life of our Indian tribes, have often expressed doubts as to whether the same laws should be administered to the natives in the same manner as to white men, serious consideration. The primary intention of all law is to preserve peace and harmony in a community, and to protect life and property. The laws which work so smoothy, and with such good effect amongst us, were framed for the use of an enlightened and civilized people – a people accustomed to conform to all authorized enactments, and as a rule understanding tolerably well the bearing and intention of the laws which govern them. But there are some things which have grown up with the gradually changing views of successive generations, that are so purely the result of a high state of civilization, as to be we might almost say, inapplicable to a ruder condition of society.

Of these things the one which bears most upon our subject, is the extreme carefulness of the law, and the scrupulously watched and necessarily tedious processes used in all cases where the life of man is concerned. That this should be so in the Nineteenth Century is almost a matter of course, and among an enlightened people as the English are, a necessity. But are the governing influences which render the administration of justice in the mother country a comparatively easy task, the same in the wilds of British Columbia, and among a rude race, who have no definite ideas of religion and whose education is limited to a knowledge of the devices necessary to maintain life? We cannot think so. Nor does the experience of those men who know them best, lead to a belief in the wisdom of attempting to mete out to these children in civilization, the laws which were intended of the guidance of an already law abiding race.

We do not intend to advocate the government of the Indians in a less just manner that our own; but we believe that the ends of justice would be attained more surely, and the safety of the community be more perfectly secured, by an adaptation of our laws which should meet the peculiar influences and modes of reasoning which obtain amongst the Indian tribes. There is a profession of humanity which is more cruel than undisguised tyranny. A true regard for the common weal means, the wisest legislation for the whole community, not a morbid, shortsighted craving for a false and ill judged leniency. The mercy which spares a murderer’s life is miscalled. Its true title is injustice. But though justice may in the end be satisfied, and the policy of life for life be carried out, the full intent of capital punishment is not attained unless the effect produced by the execution of a criminal be such as will tend to deter the repetition of the crime.

Under the system at present followed with regard to the Indians, we think this salutary terror of the law is not sufficiently engendered. The slow process of our courts, the solemn forms and ceremonies used, and the long time which usually elapses between the crime and the punishment, tend to weaken the effect of the climax. The justice which we believe can alone instil a due respect for human life into the minds of the natives of this country, should be sudden. Where murder is committed, and the facts elicited point unerringly to the culprit, a short and immediate trial, and a speedy execution, would do more to hold in check the homicidal propensities of the aborigines than an army of volunteers, or the solemnity and form of a half a dozen Courts of Assize. There is no cruelty in this, nor need the Indian with less ceremonial receive scanter justice. If it can be proved, and we think it can, that he has not that regard for his own life which we feel and that he is guided by a wild and reckless fatalism, there can be no doubt that for our own safety we must endeavour to find a way of striking terror into his mind. A man may be so reckless as to commit a murder, even with the consciousness that his crime will be discovered, if he knows that, when taken, he will still have some weeks or months of life before him. But if he knew that he would be arrested one day, tried the next and hanged the day following, he would be apt to think twice before he raised the knife or drew the revolver.

The time may come when the Indian will be fit to receive the same legislation as we do, but at present he is not ripe for it, and we are but endangering our own safety and tampering with his future, in allowing him to believe that he can raise the hand of murder against white men on the same terms as he would take a scalp. ishment [Punishment?] will do the state more service and cost the exchequer less, than a volunteer expedition twice a year, and at the same time we believe that it will sooner bring our wild neighbours to reason than any other course in the power of the Government to pursue.

Source: "The Indian and the Law," The North Pacific Times, December 10, 1864.

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