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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/651

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THE INDIANS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA.

enemy. He was as strong as two thunder-birds when he went into the battle."

An ancient law demands that four songs be sung before the meal can be served and the debate can be opened. The young man dished out the meal, and while all were eating one of the chiefs rose, wrapped his blanket around him so as to leave one arm free, and began his speech. Of course, I did not understand him, but I saw from his expressive gestures that he spoke of me. After his long speech was finished, an interpreter was sent to me and translated the contents of the speech into Chinook.

I have to remark here that the Canadian Government tries to suppress the feasts of the natives, and that the Indian agent had occasionally threatened this tribe to send a man-of-war if they would not stop their feasts. As I was unknown to any of them, and even my friend had made my acquaintance only vary recently, I was suspected to have come there in order to report to the Government, and to send a man-of-war. Therefore the chief spoke thus:

"We want to know whether you have come to stop our dances and feasts, as the missionaries and agents who live among our neighbors try to do. We do not want to have anybody here who will interfere with our customs. The agent has told us that he would send a man-of-war if we should continue to do as our grandfathers and great-grandfathers have done. But we do not mind his words. Is this the white man's land? The agent says this is the Queen's land; but no! it is mine. Where was the Queen when God sent down Qanikila?[1] Where was the Queen when Qanikila gave this land to my great-grandfather and told him, 'This will be thine'? My father owned this land and was a mighty chief; now it is mine. And when your man-of-war comes, let him destroy our houses. Do you see those woods? Do you see those trees? We shall cut them down and build new houses, and live as our fathers did. We will dance when our laws command us to dance, we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, 'Do as the Indian does'? No, we do not. Why, then, will you ask us, 'Do as the white man does'? It is a strict law that bids us to dance. It is a strict law that bids us to distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you are come to forbid us to dance, begone; if not, you will be welcome to us."

I was expected to answer this speech, and did so through the interpreter. I assured them of my friendly intentions, and said that I would not send a man-of-war—well I might promise that!—that I had no intention to interfere with their ways and customs; and, in order to show that I was their friend, I invited the whole tribe to a feast on the next night.

  1. Qanikila is the son of the deity in the traditions of this people.