"From Our Side We Will be Good Neighbour[s] to Them": Doukhobor-Sinixt Relations at the Confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers in the Early Twentieth Century
Keywords:colonization, traditional cultures, First Nations, Doukhobors, Sinixt, Lawney Reyes, Alexander Christian and family
From their arrival on the Canadian Prairies in 1899 to their removal to the Kootenay region in 1908, the christian pacifist sect known as Doukhobors entered into a "native space", a narrative shaped by aboriginal territories and cultures. Focusing particularly on the valuable lands at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers in the West Kootenay, this paper examines the often difficult relationship between the last First Nations people at the confluence--the Sinixt Christian family--and the Doukhobors. By 1912 the Doukhobor community had purchased some 14,000 acres of land in Kootenay-Boundary. These lands, which were to provide hope and consolation for a long-persecuted community, included the Sinixt settlement of kp'itl'els at the mouth of the Kootenay River. Neglected by federal and provincial officials, members of the Christian family found themselves fenced in on a small plot of their former lands, their burial grounds plowed over for fields and orchards by Doukhobor farmers. Within a short while the Christian family abandoned their traditional home of kp'itl'els to the new settlers, though the bitter experience of displacement was never entirely forgotten. Set within the broader context of an unfolding Euro-Canadian settlement frontier in the West Kootenay, the paper explores failures to recognize "native space" in the region and evolving Doukhobor attitudes towards land and native peoples first encountered in the Prairie West. It also examines recent efforts at recognition and reconciliation by the Doukhobor Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ with the descendants of the Christian family.