Douglas Makes 14 Treaties
Treaties signed with Indigenous on Vancouver Island mean different things to each side
The British Colonial Office in London, England, was nervous. It was 1849, six years after the founding of Fort Victoria, and the Brits saw the ever-growing number of Americans in the Pacific Northwest as a potential threat to their access to the Pacific Ocean. They cut a deal with the Hudson’s Bay Company: colonize Vancouver Island with British settlers and receive exclusive trading rights for the next 10 years.
The practice at the time was to purchase Indigenous territories in what is known as “extinguishing,” or ending, Aboriginal title to the land. James Douglas — then the HBC's chief factor and soon to be Vancouver Island's second colonial governor — attempted to accomplish this through a series of treaties. Between 1850 and 1854, Douglas made 14 different treaties on Vancouver Island with different First Nations. The land covered in the Douglas Treaties spanned from Victoria to Sooke, the Saanich Peninsula, Nanaimo, and Fort Rupert. According to these treaties, the Indigenous chiefs and their communities agreed to “surrender, entirely and forever” most of their land to the HBC — but could keep “their village sites and enclosed fields” and “hunt over the unoccupied lands, and to carry on their fisheries as formerly.” In return, they received blankets or British pounds.
Except things weren’t so straightforward. The Saanich understood the treaty to be a peace treaty, not a sale of land. The Lekwungen saw their treaty as an agreement to pay a yearly rent to use the land. Confusion abounded, in part because the first nine treaties had no text provided but were instead oral agreements at a time when few settlers knew any Salish languages, and few Indigenous people understood English.
By 1854, Douglas had stopped making treaties. Some speculate it was due to a lack of funds; others say the gold rush necessitated a more efficient land-grabbing process. Regardless, the Douglas Treaties would be the only treaties signed in British Columbia for nearly 150 years. They remain contentious to this day.
- Latasse, David. “Of Saanich and Songhees Heritage.” Royal BC Museum, 3 Nov. 2016, staff.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/2016/11/03/david-latasse-of-saanich-and-songhees-heritage.
- Lutz, John. “Vancouver Island or Douglas Treaties 101.” University of Victoria | Humanities Computing and Media Centre, 2020, hcmc.uvic.ca/songheesconference/pdf/treatyIntroduction.pdf.
- Lutz, John Sutton. Makúk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations. Illustrated, UBC Press, 2009.
- Perry, Adele. Colonial Relations: The Douglas-Connolly Family and the Nineteenth-Century Imperial World (Critical Perspectives on Empire). Reprint, Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Petrescu, Sarah. “Lost in Translation: The Douglas Treaties.” Times Colonist, 20 Feb. 2017, www.timescolonist.com/islander/lost-in-translation-the-douglas-treaties-1.10099656.