1867: A memaloose illahee is lost to racist arson

Victoria, middle of the frontier era: an apparently racist arson attack destroys a sacred cultural site on what’s now called Halkett Island.


The Deadman’s Island that belongs to the Musqueam and/or Skwxwú7mesh Salish people of Vancouver — I’m sorry I don’t know more details — circa 1900, showing Settler squatters’ houses (image credit: Wikipedia)

Also racist: the Canadian government took this island away from the Songhees Salish people from 1924 to 1993.

One or more Chinuk Wawa phrases are confirmed.

It’s fascinating.

Besides < hyas tyhee > (háyás(h) táyí, ‘major chief’), we see evidence here for another common CW term.

In the local English place name “Deadman’s Island”, we see an echo, and in fact probably a direct translation, of CW míməlus(t)-ílihi (‘dead.people-place’) i.e. ‘graveyard’.

(See previous posts by me on that phrase, such as this and this. There’s also a traditional burial place in Vancouver known as Deadman(‘s) Island., said to have been called “dead ground” by Chief Capilano, who I guarantee was talking Jargon. That island too was taken away by the Whites; it’s now a Canadian Naval Reserve station.) 

Here’s the original information, documenting how even local Settlers were horrified by this desecration:

The fire of Sunday evening on Deadman’s Island destroyed the Indian graves and remains. The Island has been used as a burial place by the Songish or Flathead Indians for many years. The dead were placed in boxes or square coffins and left above the ground to decay. All the ‘big’ men of the tribe – the Hyas tyhees and their wives – were sent to the Island for their last sleep. Carved images, intended to represent departed chiefs, generally appeared at the side of the boxes. The favorite weapons, canoes, trinkets, and occasionally a few blankets, were deposited by the side of the corpse in the belief that the right of possession did not cease with death, and that the more the deceased was encumbered with this world’s goods when he departed for the happy hunting grounds, the more acceptable he would prove to the Great Spirit. All the relics and mementoes were destroyed on Sunday. The torch of some sacrilegious incendiary fired the shrubbery that covered the island, and the fire-fiend set forth his tongues in every direction. The flames raged all Sunday, destroying nearly every consumable object on the island….trees, shrubbery and the relics were consumed while ghastly skeletons, blackened by fire and smoke, yesterday lay exposed on the ground. The scoundrel who fired the heap, if discovered, should be well punished. Jul 4, 3 – Peter Scully and Sebastian Henry Hebbard suspected, Scully arrested and charged….Hebbard fled to United States…It is a fact worthy of remark that when the country swarmed with rough characters in ’59 and ’62, not a man of them ever offered to outrage the feelings of natives by disturbing their dead; and it is truly lamentable that the less turbulent times should have witnessed an act of vandalism so horrible as the wilful destruction of a burying-ground. Jul 9, 3 – Burning of Indian Burial Ground. Jul 13, 3 – Hebbard, arrest by Sergeant Bowden at Cowichan…; Jul 18, 3 – Indian Graveyard burning…

[Victoria (BC) Colonist, 1867-07-02]

What do you think?