Over 160 years ago, a 14-year-old boy was travelling through the Camosun area — then a shortcut to the villages of the WSANEC and Songhees — to deliver news of James Douglas’ arrival on the east coast of the island.
On the way, the boy was shot and killed by a farmer. The response from local indigenous groups was swift — cornered and hopelessly outnumbered at the top of a mountain, Douglas offered a truce. “The Douglas treaties were peace treaties,” says WSANEC hereditary chief Kevin Paul. “There is no land treaty.”
Nevertheless, that day went down in written history as the day Sir James Douglas bought Victoria, and Mount Doug was named in his honour. It is this myth which prompted local activists and members of the Tsawout, WSANEC, and Songhees peoples to gather last week to reaffirm the mountain’s traditional name, PKOLS (pronounced p’kawls).
While a formal request has been sent to the provincial government, speakers at last week’s event made it clear that they aren’t seeking permission to reclaim their history. “We are drawing attention to the fact that we never gave up our rights to that land,” says Paul, “nor were we consulted when the old name was paved over.”
Despite The Capital’s proud history of violent opposition to even the smallest change in our lifestyle, there was nothing adversarial about last week’s celebration atop PKOLS. “There are a lot of things that our people have to be mad about,” says Paul, “but instead of the oppressed becoming the oppressor, something inclusive was done on that day.” This action hints at the work still required to stall the ongoing process of colonization. The patchwork of planned pipelines, the logging of the Juan De Fuca Trail by developer-turned-industrialist Ender Ilkay, the coal mine recently delayed in the Comox Valley — these are the visceral effects of the same force that saw fit to name PKOLS after its herald.
A name reflects what we choose to honour as a region and as a society. PKOLS was and is a sacred place, steeped in magic and tradition. Sir James Douglas was a liar and a bigot whose life’s work laid the foundation for 150 years of injustice. Ask yourself: which name will you choose? M