Arrow Lake Indians – a visit by Agent Galbraith

Robert L.T. Galbraith was an Indian agent stationed at Fort Steele, near Cranbrook, B.C. in the early 1900s. He frequently made trips through the area to check on the status of the First Nation families that lived along the Columbia River and into the Arrow Lakes. This report on his venture through Trail was published in the Trail Creek News, April 26, 1902.

R.L.T. Galbraith, of Fort Steele, Indian agent for East and West Kootenay, was an interesting visitor to Trail this week. He was here for the purpose of vaccinating the Indians opposite Trail, on the east side of the Columbia River, and to persuade them not to cross the line or mingle with the Indians of the Colville reservation, where danger of smallpox exits.

He traveled up the Columbia River, past the present site of Trail 30 years ago. Mr. Galbraith visited the various camps along the river and Arrow Lakes with a view to ascertaining the condition of those Indians in this vicinity. He found that the families who had made this neighborhood their home for several years were in a fairly prosperous condition and were making a good very living by hunting and fishing, and also, by acting as guides to tourists who come to the country for a season’s outing.

In visiting camps opposite Trail, he found the Indians well supplied with food, neatly dressed and their families free from sickness. He vaccinated all who required it and urged them to mix, in no way, with the Indians south of the line, as he is anxious that they shall not acquire the evil habits of liquor, prevalent among the larger communities of the Colville reservation.

Mr. Galbraith always has a confidential talk with those under his charge. They know him well and are disposed to appreciate the fact that he comes to look after their welfare. He impressed them with the necessity of observing the laws of the country, especially in the matter of game, and pointed out to them that it was as much in their interest that the laws were passed as to the white man.

When he visited the Indians located near Fire Valley (Inonoaklin/Edgewood area) he found that they had extensively cultivated their gardens and planted many fruit trees. Those in that locality had been free from sickness and had made an excellent living by hunting.

Before returning to Forte Steele, he will call on the little band located at the mouth of the Kootenay.

The history of the Arrow Lake Indians is interesting. In the early days there was a tribe or small band known as the Fort Sheppard Indians, located at Fort Sheppard, and made the old Hudson Bay fort their headquarters. After the closing of the post (1870), these Indians scattered, some going to the Colville reservation and others to Okanagan, and were absorbed by those bands. Those remaining on the river are the remnants of a band which made Arrow Lakes and vicinity their hunting ground. They are most desirous of having a small reservation set apart for them south and east of Burton City and Mr. Galbraith will place the matter before the Indian department and the provincial government and endeavour to have their request complied with. They trap martin, fisher, beaver, wolverine, coyote, mink and mountain lion, generally understood to belong to the cougar tribe.

This year, the returns have not been as plentiful as previously, but prices have been excellent: a martin skin bringing from $10 to $15, which is five times as much as originally. The average price in Hudson Bay days was $3. At the time, they counted money in skins, with the beaver as the basis of value. The price of a full grown beaver was $2, which was called a  skin. A martin was worth a skin and a half, or $3. A bear was two skins and a half, or $5. This was the highest value and so it was that they traded their skins for provision, clothing and ammunition.

The last trader at old Fort Sheppard was Mr. Hardisty, who left the Hudson Bay service and is now private secretary to Lord Strathcona.

In discussing his visit, Mr. Galbraith said that the aim of the Indian department was to make the Indians self-supporting, but should one become destitute through sickness or any other cause, the department through agents, provides them with food, medicine and attendance. Seeds are given from time to time and where the Indians are unable to provide farming implements, plows and harrows are given them to assist in the cultivation of the ground. These improvements are supplied through Mr. Galbraith’s investigation.

In his agency, are some 600 Indians, about 25 of whom are located along the Columbia River. The majority of these Indians are able to speak English, but the language spoken among themselves is that of the Shuswaps.

In most cases the older ones do not know their age. Mr. Galbraith intends asking the Rev. Father Welsh of Rossland to occasionally look after the spiritual welfare of the Indians in this locality. They are all loyal and devoted to their country and have great respect for the ”laws of King George” as they put it.

Reprinted in 100 Years of Trail History, published in 2001 by the Trail Daily Times.