The Royal BC Museum is making a historic ledger documenting decisions from the Indian Reserve Commission accessible to Indigenous communities and all British Columbians.
The book from 1876 – Volume One of the “Journal of Proceedings” – was acquired by the museum in 2018 from a private seller for $15,000 and has been digitized. It details decisions between the Joint Provincial and Federal Indian Reserve Commission and Indigenous elders and chiefs on lands later designated as reserves on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Established in 1875, the Joint Indian Reserve Commission was created by the governments of Canada and B.C. to fix boundaries of Indian Reserves in the province. According to the Royal BC Museum, it is believed no other copy of Volume One exists.
The book is comprised of daily entries from November 1876 to June 1877 by the three-person committee made up of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, Archibald McKinlay and Gilber Malcom Sproat. The three met with Indigenous communities on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to discuss the creation of reserves, according to the Royal BC Museum.
The first quarter of the volume contains several small, coloured ink drawings of reserves on the mainland. The maps for Vancouver Island are more roughly sketched in black ink, likely by a different person according to the Royal BC Museum. At various points in the volume, correspondence and accounts of statements by Indigenous peoples, settlers and personal letters have been placed between pages.
While the ledger’s core information is preserved elsewhere in official records, it was not microfilmed or digitized until now.
“It is an interesting read, providing new insight into the work of the Joint Reserve Commission,” said Dianne Hinkley, research director for the Cowichan Tribes and a member of the Royal BC Museum’s Indigenous Advisory and Advocacy Committee.
Chief executive of the Royal BC Museum Jack Lohman said the volume reflects the process of colonialism and serves as the official record of meetings and dates of decisions at each community.
“The Royal BC Museum anticipates the volume will be of great interest to Indigenous communities in B.C. documented within, and we will ensure all British Columbians have access to the contents,” Lohman said.
Librarian and Archivist of Canada Leslie Weir said the second volume of the ledger has been digitized by Library and Archives Canada as part of its We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative.
“[Library and Archives Canada] acknowledges the significance of these two volumes for recognizing the history of First Nations in British Columbia,” Weir said, adding that they aim to increase access to Indigenous-related content in its collection “as part of its commitment to move forward on the path toward reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and the Metis Nation.”
Royal BC Museum staff have photographed, digitized and described the contents of Volume One and the journal is available to the public at search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/joint-indian-reserve-commission-journal-of-proceedings-volume-i.
A finding aid listing all of the Indigenous communities visited by the Commission is also available here and a
a comprehensive webpage about the volume here.
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