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Video: What was life on the Pacific Northwest Coast like before the Europeans came?

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(The video begins with a raven perched in a tree, making a croaking noise as well as a sound like water dripping. The video pans out to an overview shot of a river with forested hills. Drumming music is plays in the background.)

A Narrator says: Indigenous peoples have lived on the Pacific Northwest Coast since time immemorial. When the Europeans first came here, they encountered one of the most densely populated regions in North America.

(A map of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America indicates some First Nations territories.)

Narrator: Thousands of villages were located along the coast.

(Sounds of birds chirping and video of hundreds of birds flying above the ocean.)

(Overhead video of orcas swimming.)

Narrator: These Indigenous communities thrived in this vast and abundant region through their stewardship of the land and water.

Narrator: Salmon and other sea life were harvested annually.

(Underwater video of herring spawning.)

Narrator: Sophisticated economic systems, such as cultivating clam gardens, nurturing camas crops, fish trapping, and reef net fishing, allowed Indigenous peoples to live in their territories sustainably.

(Indigenous people gathering crops and boarding a canoe.)

Narrator: Their ecological knowledge emerged over millennium. It is shared across generations and is continually tested and improved.

(Video of Indigenous people paddling a canoe and of children learning to dance.)

Narrator: Red cedar bark, wood, roots, and leaves were used to construct big houses and canoes, in carving, weaving, and in sacred practices.

(Drone video over a Big House entrance and of dancers inside.)

Narrator: Indigenous communities maintained sophisticated legal traditions and practices that governed their relationship to the land. Diplomatic networks that centre on protocols of ceremony, trade, and intermarriage alliances connect communities together within and across the Indigenous Pacific Northwest.

(Image of Indigenous leaders in their regalia and of an elder with children in the forest. Image of Potlatch ceremony inside a long house. There is a large fire in the middle, and around stands community members in regalia.)

Narrator: It is particularly the Potlatch system that works to redistribute abundance within and between communities.

(Video of children, then of a Potlatch ceremony with singing in the background.)

Narrator: While warfare was not unknown, societies managed, for the most part, to balance the rights of individuals and groups as well as the rights of humans with other life forms.

(Video of Potlatch dancers wearing masks.)

Narrator: These governance, social, and economic systems still remain central to the prosperity of Indigenous nationhood today.

(Picture of sunset from a wide beach with trees on a hill in silhouette.)

Video: How were the Europeans changing global trade?

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(As the video begins, there is gentle music, On-screen text appears: European Global Trade)

A narrator reads out a journal entry: “The evening of April the 29th brought us to an anchor in very thick rainy weather, about eight miles within the entrance on the southern shore of the supposed Straits of De Fuca. The following morning…a gentle breeze sprang up from the North West…which presented to our view this renowned inlet.” End of journal entry.

(The journal entry appears in cursive, overtop a painting of a ship.)

Narrator: Captain Vancouver came to the Pacific North West Coast in 1792 to complete the last in a series of European expeditions. Why were the Europeans undertaking these journeys? To understand that, we need to wind the clock back 400 years. For centuries trade with Asia for spices and cloth had gone along the Silk Road.

(The route of the Silk Road is drawn on a map of Eurasia, from China, over the north of India, into Europe.)

Narrator: To increase their profits, the Europeans began looking for a sea route.

(Map of the world shows arrows extending from Europe into the Atlantic Ocean with question marks around them.)

Narrator: Christopher Columbus thought he had found it when he sailed west in 1492 – although unknowingly, he had only reached the Caribbean. Vasco da Gama did make it to Asia when he sailed east around Africa to reach India in 1498. These explorers were willing to trade with the people they encountered but took what they wanted by force if necessary.

(Historical drawings and paintings depict European explorers with flags and heavily-armed crew members meeting Indigenous peoples.)

Narrator: Pope Alexander VI gave the Portuguese and Spanish the “God Given Right” to claim ownership of the new lands. At the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, they agreed to divide the new world between themselves. Portugal would have all lands East of the Cape Verde Islands and Spain all lands to the West.

(There is a map of the world south of Spain and Portugal. A white line vertically divides the world at 46 degrees latitude, cutting through the Atlantic Ocean and what is now Brazil. To the right of this line, Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, and a majority of Antarctica are shaded in green to represent the Pope’s 1494 declaration that these lands were claimed by Portugal. The southern USA, Central America, and the rest of South America and Antarctica are shaded in red for Spain.)

Narrator: With the Pope’s blessing, the Spanish and Portuguese explorers saw themselves as bringing the Christian religion to the people they encountered, whether they wanted it or not.

(Historical paintings and drawings of Spanish and Portuguese armies battling Indigenous communities. There are sounds of gunshots.)

Narrator: In Central and South America, the Spanish conquistadores conspired with rival indigenous groups to overwhelm the Aztec and Incan civilizations. The Spanish plundered gold and silver from these communities estimated at 11 billion dollars in today’s money. The Portuguese and Spanish also established sugar plantations in Brazil and in the Caribbean.

(A map shows what is now Brazil in green, representing what land was claimed by Portugal. Western and southern USA, Central America, the Caribbean, and the rest of South America are in red to represent what was claimed by Spain.)

Narrator: They enslaved the Indigenous populations to work in these plantations and sold the sugar at a huge profit in Europe.

(Graphic historical drawings of Indigenous peoples being tortured and enslaved and performing hard labour on sugar plantations.)

Narrator: Once the Indigenous populations were decimated, they traded with African Coastal tribes for enslaved African men, women and children to provide the labour they needed.

(An animated map of the lands around the Atlantic Ocean. The map first focuses on the west coast of Africa. The map shows icons of people near Liberia and down in Angola. Cape Coast, Ghana is labelled as “Gold Coast”. Red and green slave ship routes are drawn from the Gold Coast, across the Atlantic Ocean, to Spain and Portugal’s claimed lands in North and South America. Multiple historical drawings depicting the torture and living conditions on the slave ships are shown.)

Narrator: In the 17th century, Holland, Britain and France began to challenge Spain and Portugal’s control over trade with the New World. The Dutch took over the spice trade in the East Indies. The British established plantations and colonies in the Caribbean and along the east coast of North America.

(A map of North America highlights Britain’s land claims in purple. Belize, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the east coast of Nicaragua, the east coast of the USA, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the lands surrounding the Hudson’s Bay are all highlighted purple.)

Narrator: In 1670 they established the Hudson’s Bay Fur Trading monopoly. France began trading in India, established plantations in the Caribbean, and the territory of New France with Quebec City at the centre.

(A map of North America highlights France’s land claims in blue. French Guiana, St. Lucia, Haiti, Quebec, New Brunswick, and most of Ontario, Manitoba, and central USA down to New Orleans are all highlighted blue. Much of western Canada and the USA remains grey, un-highlighted, representing no European claims yet.)

Narrator: By 1730, the European trading networks had become truly global, concentrating on an Atlantic trading triangle. Enslaved people became the core source of profit for all the European powers.

(On-screen text appears. The words “Manufactured goods” are in a text box centred at the top of the screen. The words “Plantation products” are in a text box at the bottom left of the screen. The words “Slaves” are in a text box at the bottom right of the screen. Lines connect these text boxes, creating the shape of a triangle. The words disappear, replaced by a map of the lands around the Atlantic Ocean. An arrow from Africa to South and North America is labelled “slaves”. A second arrow from North America to Europe is labelled “sugar, coffee, hides”. A third arrow from Europe to Africa is labelled “cloth, guns, cowries, rum”. The arrows create a triangular shape, reminiscent of the connected textboxes previously.)

Narrator: By the 18th century over 6.5 million Africans had been captured and transported. Life expectancy on the plantations was low. In the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue, 30,000 enslaved Africans arrived annually; half of them would die within 3 to 8 years.

(Historical drawings of crowded living conditions on plantations, the brutal punishment of slaves, and slaves working on plantations surrounded.)

Narrator: The European powers fought over each other’s colonies in the 7 Years' War – the world’s first truly global conflict.

(Sounds of canons firing. Historical painting of large sailing ships battling at sea. One ship has all its masts and sails broken.)

Narrator: France lost Quebec City to the British in 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. And consequently, gave up its North American territory to Britain and Spain in a peace treaty signed in Paris in 1763.

(A map of North America and Central America. All of Canada and the USA east of Saskatchewan is highlighted in purple, representing Britain. Central and southern USA, Mexico, and Central America are highlighted in red, representing Spain. The rest of North America remains grey, un-highlighted.)

Narrator: With their imperial dominance secure, the British commissioned the first of three expeditions to complete the mapping of the Pacific.

(A map of the world is shown. A white sailing route begins in Britain, sails south through the Atlantic Ocean, circumnavigating the southern hemisphere before returning north to Britain. The sailing route sails around New Zealand and along the east coast of Australia. This route is very jagged. This route represents Captain Cook’s circumnavigation around the world.)

Narrator: And ideally find a faster sea route to Asia through North America – the Northwest Passage.

(On the same map, a number of routes appear across North America, dotted by question marks and the on-screen text “The Northwest Passage”.)

Narrator: The expedition was led by Captain James Cook, a skilled mapmaker and navigator. Over seven years and two expeditions, Cook drew the first maps of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. He also confirmed that, other than Antarctica, there were no other southern continents.

(A painting of Captain Cook shows him with grey hair, in a blue and white buttoned navy uniform, and holding a telescope and tricorn triangular hat. Overtop Captain Cook’s white sailing route, a red sailing route is drawn to represent Cook’s second voyage. The red route begins again in Britain, sails closer to Antarctica travelling east. It passes around New Zealand, and circles the Pacific Ocean a couple of times before returning to Britain.)

Narrator: In the age of colonial conquest, maps were an important source of wealth. Indigenous territories became unrecorded blank spaces which the Europeans would claim as their own.

(A map shows Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia highlighted in purple, representing that they were claimed by the British.)

Narrator: Cook’s expeditions were sponsored by the Royal Society – a British Scientific Academy. In addition to maps, these expeditions returned with carefully documented information provided by scientists and artists about the people they met and the plants and animals they encountered.

(A book with the ornate Royal Society logo as the cover, opens to show drawings of animals, such as a penguin and kangaroo, of Indigenous peoples with face tattoos, and of fruit trees.)

Narrator: Official journals were published and widely read by the general public. Cook became a national hero. With mapping of the Southern Pacific complete, would Cook now complete his mission and return to find the Northwest Passage?

Video: What attracted the Europeans to the Pacific Northwest Coast?

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(As the video begins, there is pensive music. On-screen text appears: A Northwest Passage.)

A narrator reads out a journal entry: “There can be little doubt of there being a Northern communication of some sort, by sea, between this West side of America and the East side, through Baffin’s Bay.” Captain James Cook, Aleutian Islands, October 1778.

(The journal entry appears in cursive, overtop a drawing of a ship.)

The Narrator says: Britain was challenging Spain’s claim to sovereignty over the region in their attempts to find the Northwest Passage. As early as 1592, Juan de Fuca, a great mariner employed by Spain, believed he had found a route here.

(A historical cartographic map is displayed. It has a very detailed Asia, but North America is roughly outlined with few details. The map shows where Juan de Fuca sailed around the 49th parallel).

Narrator: There were also stories of a possible route found by the Spanish admiral, Bartholomew de Fonte, in this location, in 1640.

(On the same cartographic map, another route is shown at about 53° north.)

Narrator: The Hudson’s Bay Company employed Samuel Hearne and Matonabbee, a Dene guide, to explore overland routes. They reached the Arctic Ocean, at the mouth of the Coppermine River in 1771.

(An animated map shows a circuitous route Samuel Hearne and Matonabbee took leaving from Fort Prince of Wales on the west side of the Hudson’s Bay and back. After, a second route is shown leaving from Fort Prince of Wales north to the Arctic Ocean, and then back to Hudson’s Bay.)

Narrator: Around the same time, maps showing Russian discoveries gave rise to the idea of a clearwater passage to the north and east, across the top of America. Could a passage be this far north?

(On the same cartographic map, a route is drawn north between Russia and what is now Alaska into the Arctic Ocean.)

Narrator: The British speculated it was likely, and commissioned Captain James Cook to investigate. In January 1778, the expedition reached Hawai’i.

(An animated map of the world shows Captain Cook’s route from New Zealand north to Hawai’i (known as the Sandwich Islands by the British at that time).)

Narrator: They were the first Europeans to visit and map the archipelago.

(A drawing of the ships off Hawai’i and some cartographic maps drawn on that voyage are shown.)

Narrator: Cook was welcomed by hundreds of islanders as an honoured guest.

(A black and white drawing of Hawai’ians rowing to Captain Cook’s ship with the Hawai’ian mountains in the background.)

Narrator: Some believe the Hawai’ians thought that Cook was an incarnation of the Polynesian god Lono.

(A drawing of Captain Cook and some of his crew in Hawai’i surrounded by Hawai’ians sitting around.)

Narrator: By March, the expedition was approaching the Northwest Coast. They were thwarted by storms.

(An animated map shows Captain Cook's route from Hawai’i across the Pacific Ocean to the Northwest Coast of North America.)

Narrator: Consequently, they missed Juan de Fuca’s Strait, and were too far offshore to look for Admiral Fonte’s Passage. Cook’s journal shows he was skeptical about both these routes.

The narrator reads out a journal entry: “for my own part, I give no credit to such vague and improbable stories.” Captain James Cook, May 1778.

(Behind the cursive journal quote, a map of the Northwest Coast depicts Cook’s zagged route along the coast.)

Narrator: The ships anchored near the village of Yuquot. Cook mistakenly named the village Nootka, having misinterpreted the Mowachaht people when he arrived.

The narrator reads out a journal entry: “They would paddle…round both ships. A chief or other principal person standing up with a spear…they would come alongside and begin to trade without further ceremony…their articles were the skins of animals, in particular the Sea Beaver [Otter]...” Captain James Cook, April 1778, Ship Cove.

(Behind the cursive journal quote is a sketch of a sea otter from Captain Cook’s voyage.)

Narrator: The sailors traded with the Mowachaht people for supplies of wood, water, oil, fish, and furs, in exchange for mainly metal objects, a rare material in Yuquot.

(A series of sketches and paintings of Captain Cook’s ships anchored in Yuquot, with forested mountains and Mowachaht canoes around.)

Narrator: During their stay, John Webber and other ship artists made detailed drawings documenting life in the community. These would later appear as engravings in the expedition’s published journal, which became a defacto guidebook in the region.

(A series of sketches by John Webber and others of Mowachaht regalia and villages.)

Narrator: After nearly a month a Yuquot, Cook resumed his survey and renaming of the Northwest Coast. They were in Prince William Sound by May, Cook Inlet in June, and Icy Cape by August.

(The cartographic map of the Northwest Coast shows Cook’s route along the coast. Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet are both on the southern side of Alaska, whereas Icy Cape is in the Arctic at 70 degrees North.)

Narrator: Cook was convinced the Passage was at 71 degrees North, but ice prevented them sailing further. The expedition returned to Hawai’i in January 1779 for repairs and supplies. Although they were welcomed back at first, a disagreement followed, and Cook was killed by the Hawai’ians on February 14th.

(A painting of the battle between Cook’s crew and the Hawai’ians. Gunshots are heard in the background.)

Narrator: The crew continued their mission. On their way home, they learned that the sea otter pelts they purchased in Yuquot could sell for a huge profit in China. A good pelt sold for $120. That’s worth almost $3,000 today.

(An animated map shows that the crew sailed from Hawai’i up north along the coast of Asia, then south to China.)

Narrator: The sea otter story attracted a lot of interest among British Navy sailors. Many of them were on half-pay after the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783. In 1785, the first British fur trading ship arrived in Yuquot. The following summer, seven British fur traders were in the area. Fortunes were made.

(A map shows Yuquot on a large island on the Pacific Northwest Coast, at about 49 degrees North.)

Narrator: In 1787, Captain Nathaniel Portlock and George Dixon sold 2,552 furs for $54,875 in Canton. That’s worth about $1.4 million today. The Indigenous communities’ long-established trade networks quickly included British and American goods. A number of trade-centres emerged among the coastal communities.

(On a map of the Pacific Northwest Coast, the nearby trade centres of Yuquot and Clayoquot Sound are highlighted. Further north around 55 degrees North, the trade centres of Kiusta and Kaigani on large islands are highlighted.)

Narrator: Each chief’s power and influence grew with their increased wealth.

(Chief Michael Maquinna of Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation is interviewed on screen, with an enlarged sketch behind of an ancestral village.)

Chief Michael Maquinna: “Initially, it was not a bad thing to begin with. However, as time had gone on, we realized that perhaps it didn’t turn out so well for First Nation people.”

Narrator: In 1788, financed by a conglomerate of British and Asian trading companies, John Meares, a former Royal Navy lieutenant, arrived in Yuquot. He built a schooner there and claimed he bought land from the Mowachaht Chief Maquinna to build a trading post.

(A painting of a schooner being built on the coast is shown, overlaid by two separate drawings of Chief Maquinna in a woven regalia hat and John Meares.)

Narrator: By the spring of 1789, several American and British fur traders were anchored in Yuquot. Spain was increasingly concerned about its sovereignty claims over the region. In addition to the growing British presence, they were monitoring Russia’s fur trading activities in the Aleutian Islands. An expedition there in 1788 reported that the Russians had expanded their networks significantly. Six new trading posts and a large settlement on Kodiak Island.

(A map shows the Aleutian Islands on the southern part of what is now Alaska and Kodiak Island to the east.)

Narrator: In May, 1789, two Spanish frigates arrived in Yuquot commanded by Captain Esteban José Martínez. They officially took possession of the Cove and built a gun battery at the harbour entrance.

(A drawing shows a trading post with a flag in the Cove.)

Narrator: Later, the Argonaut fur trader arrived in July with Chinese labourers and supplies for John Meares trading post. An argument erupted between Martínez and the ship’s captain, James Colnett. Accusing the British fur traders of trespassing on Spanish territory, Martínez seized the ships and arrested the crew. In the midst of the skirmish, Chief Callicum, the brother-in-law of Chief Maquinna, was killed by the Spanish. John Meares returned to England from China in April, 1790, with news of the injustices his trading company had suffered and asking for government help.

How would the British respond to these offences?