The Battle at Maple Bay: The Dynamics of Coast

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mately fifty- five independent First Nation (British Columbia, Canada) and native American (Washington ...... Victoria Daily Colonist, Sunday Magazine, Septem-.
The Battle at Maple Bay: The Dynamics of Coast Salish Political Organization through Oral Histories Bill Angelbeck, University of British Columbia Eric McLay, University of Victoria

Abstract. In the mid-nineteenth century, an alliance of Coast Salish groups engaged in a maritime canoe battle against the Kwakwaka’wakw Lekwiltok at Maple Bay on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest Coast. This study reflects on the multivocality of twenty-one Coast Salish accounts of the historic battle to consider how independent groups recount a period of broad alliance and unification. These oral narratives commemorate this historic event as a moment of political solidarity among the Coast Salish, who are commonly conceived as organized at the scale of the household, while revealing persistent tensions between alliance and autonomy. Moreover, the stories of the battle and its aftermath provide insights into Coast Salish protocols for enacting justice and resolving conflict. This article aims to demonstrate the utility of oral histories for contributing anthropological insights into the historical and ongoing cultural dynamics of Coast Salish sociopolitical organization, showing how these decentralized communities, anchored in the primacy of local households, could be mobilized into broadscale regional coalitions. For many, many years, all in the bright summer weather, they have come down upon us, those Ukultahs of the North. They have killed our men and taken away our women to slavery. Every year they come, and nobody knows whose house shall be left desolate with the coming of the summer. For they are many and strong, and their war canoes are upon the sea as the salmon in the spawning season at the river mouth. We cannot stand against them. We are too few. We are not united as they are. Year after year we wail the loss of our champions, the loss of our wives and children. Then we make up our minds. All the tribes of the South, the Cowichans, the Malahats, the Songhees, the Saanich and the men from Sooke, where the tall white waves come in from the ocean—all of us make up our minds. We shall Ethnohistory 58:3 (Summer 2011)"DOI 10.1215/00141801-1263821 Copyright 2011 by American Society for Ethnohistory


Bill Angelbeck and Eric McLay become one people and join and await the coming of the Ukultahs. They shall not find us until they come upon us all together. —Chief David La Tesse, East Saanich (Lugrin 1932).

Introduction Sometime in the mid-1800s, it is retold, a climactic maritime battle was fought at Maple Bay on Vancouver Island between a Coast Salish alliance from the Gulf of Georgia and Puget Sound and the Lekwiltok, the southern Kwakwaka’wakw from the Johnstone Strait—a group infamous for their ferocity and belligerence. No contemporary written documentation of this postcontact battle is presently known to be extant; however, this conflict is well documented in the oral histories of many Coast Salish peoples over the generations. In most accounts, the rationale for this conflict was the Lekwiltok’s repeated raids on Coast Salish villages in the early postcontact era. Sometime after 1830, Coast Salish groups united in an alliance to battle the Lekwiltok in Maple Bay in a conflict involving warriors in scores to hundreds of war canoes. In total, we have collected twenty-one accounts recorded in oral and ethnohistorical literature that describe the history of this battle, including the events leading up to this conflict and the subsequent accounts about the incidents in its aftermath. Two of these accounts include those we have recently recorded with Coast Salish Island Hul’qumi’num elders on location in Maple Bay that narrate the continuing importance and life of this story in Coast Salish oral histories today. In this essay, we evaluate these accounts for what they reveal about Coast Salish sociopolitical organization and protocols for conflict resolution. The Battle at Maple Bay constitutes a significant oral tradition in itself;1 apart from creation stories, we know of no other story that has so many documented oral histories among the Coast Salish. Nearly all of the early ethnographers working in the region documented accounts of this battle. While many stories demonstrate remarkable consistency over generations, each account also has some elements and events that are missing in others. The aggregate of these accounts provides a larger comparative context that reveals how each group had motives to participate in this alliance, how they uniquely experienced the battle, and why this historical event was so significant in transforming intergroup relations in the early postcontact era. This battle is of particular political significance because it concerns a moment of extensive Coast Salish unity, a feature that twentieth- century ethnographers have noted as generally absent among the Coast Salish. They have typically been described as “loosely organized” (Suttles 1954) and “atomistic” (Mitchell 1989), as politically distinct groups that identify with

The Battle at Maple Bay


their household and community village much more than with any broader concept of Coast Salish identity. While routinely organized at the scale of the household, Coast Salish political structures were embedded in regional networks of social relations that could be politically mobilized at various scales of cooperation (Angelbeck 2009; Kennedy 2000, 2007; Miller 1989; Miller and Boxberger 1994; Thom 2005). Therefore, this oft-told legacy recalls a historic moment of common Coast Salish identity, a momentary inversion of their normally vehement political independence. In the end, our analysis of this oral tradition provides a unique illustration of how disparate households and local village groups retain their autonomy while allying with others to accomplish shared goals. We begin by introducing some cultural and historical background on the Coast Salish and Lekwiltok, including the nature of their conflict in the early postcontact era and, particularly, conceptions of nineteenth-century Coast Salish sociopolitical organization. Next, we set the event within the cultural landscape of Maple Bay and provide some context for Coast Salish oral traditions before describing the varying accounts of the battle in a comparative context. We conclude with a thematic analysis of the oral histories of the battle concerning Coast Salish sociopolitical organization and protocols—namely, alliance, autonomy, and justice. Coast Salish and Lekwiltok The Coast Salish occupy the Salish Sea on the Pacific Northwest Coast, ranging from the Straits of Juan de Fuca in the west to the Fraser Basin in the east and from south of Puget Sound to north of Desolation Sound (Suttles 1990) (fig. 1). The Coast Salish demonstrate remarkable cultural and linguistic diversity for such a small region and today are organized as approximately fifty-five independent First Nation (British Columbia, Canada) and native American (Washington State) tribal governments. The Laich-Wil-Tach, or southern Kwakwaka’wakw, are a Wakashanspeaking group based in southern Johnstone Strait (Codere 1990; Curtis 1915; Duff n.d.; Galois 1994; Inglis 1964; Mauzé 1992). We use the term Lekwiltok here, as used in past references (e.g., Curtis 1915; Duff n.d.; Galois 1994; Suttles 1998), to denote the historical group of this early postcontact period. Other terms, such as Euclataw, Yuculta, or other various pronunciations and spellings,2 refer to the same group but derive from Coast Salish languages; for example, Yuqwulhte’x (Rozen 1985: 22) in Hul’q’umi’num’3 or yək wIłtax̣ for the Twana (Elmendorf 1993). The Laich-Wil-Tach Treaty Society is a treaty organization jointly negotiating on behalf of three southern Kwakwaka’wakw communities, including the We Wai Kai First Nation, Wei


Bill Angelbeck and Eric McLay 2








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Figure 1. Map of Coast Salish territory indicating many of the groups mentioned, including Lekwiltok, and the location of Maple Bay

Wai Kum First Nation, and Kwiakah First Nation, based in Campbell River and Cape Mudge on Quadra Island (Laich-Wil-Tach Treaty Society 2010). In the early postcontact period, the Lekwiltok conquered the southern Johnstone Strait, from Salmon River to Cape Mudge, an area that had been northern Coast Salish territory in the early to mid-nineteenth century (Galois 1994: 233–35; Taylor and Duff 1956). Such territorial expansion sharply contrasts with common ethnographic depictions of Northwest Coast warfare, typically described as intermittent predatory raiding for prestige, food stores, loot, and especially slaves (Ferguson 1983; Mitchell 1984). This interregional conflict and territorial expansion on the part of the Lekwiltok is considered to be due in part to the introduction of firearms from fur traders on the west coast as well as to the disruption from introduced epidemics that affected Coast Salish populations, settlements, and sociopolitical organization (Angelbeck 2007; Harris 1994).4 The Fort Langley Journals of 1827 to 1830 provide numerous mentions of Coast Salish peoples’ fear of the Lekwiltok, news of Lekwiltok attacks,

The Battle at Maple Bay


and many false alarms about their raiding villages on the Fraser River and throughout the Salish Sea (Maclachlan 1998). It is clear that the Battle at Maple Bay occurred after the years of the preserved Fort Langley Journals. From our archival review, we interpret that the Battle at Maple Bay occurred sometime between 1830 and 1855. Nevertheless, despite the lack of known contemporary written sources, it is remarkable that this event has been well recorded by many generations of Coast Salish peoples in their oral histories, which forms the basis of the material presented in this essay, as narrated to ethnographers, historians, and journalists and to other local persons over the years. Ethnographic Portrayals of the Coast Salish Debates about the nature of sociopolitical organization in the mid-1800s have been valuable to help clarify several problematic issues of culture, history, and political organization among the Coast Salish. Kenneth Tollefson has observed that there is a dramatic contrast between historians’ portrayals of the Coast Salish across the Puget Sound region in the early to mid1800s, emphasizing examples of larger, regional political cooperation and aggregations, and ethnographers’ tendencies to depict “local groups with weak leadership,” constraining the scope of political analysis (1996: 147). Based on ethnohistorical data, Tollefson argued, the Snoqualmie leadership in the 1840s held political power similar to a “chiefdom” (1987). Bruce G. Miller and Daniel L. Boxberger (1994) refuted the idea of a centralized chiefdom, arguing that Snoqualmie political organization was culturally and historically situated within the contexts of regional Coast Salish social networks and postcontact change. As Boxberger and Miller (1997: 136) asserted, instead of attempting to categorize the Coast Salish into static evolutionary models (e.g., Service 1962), researchers should assess such historical developments in their own terms, which can lead to more productive understandings of Coast Salish political structure and processes. Here, we evaluate the processes and protocols of Coast Salish political organization as embedded within the dynamics of social relations, kinship, and regional network alliances. Coast Salish ethnographers have emphasized the household as the primary political and economic unit of power, production, and consumption (Barnett 1955; Suttles 1960). Households were corporate groups composed of extended families or several closely related families that shared a common ancestor, residence, and history.5 Beyond the household, the village or local residence group is often ethnographically described as the largest political unit among the Coast Salish (e.g., Miller and Boxberger 1994: 269;


Bill Angelbeck and Eric McLay

Thom 2010: 34). Homer G. Barnett (1955) suggested winter residential villages were “not a basis for collective action” but better conceptualized as independent “house clusters” (21, 243).6 While the village was not a cohesive polity, the Coast Salish more broadly cooperated through other means. Miller (1989) argued that social relations in Puget Sound in the mid-1800s were organized according to principles of network exchange: closer local groups demonstrated stronger ties than neighbors more distant, but the degree of interaction varied depending on the types of relations, whether marriage, co-use of resources, ritual, trade, or coalition. It is the significance of intermarriage alliances between households that provides a link for collective action (Suttles 1960). The affinal alliances of households often extended well beyond the village, and these kin allies could be called on to aid in common defense (Barnett 1955: 182). Yet the authority and influence of Coast Salish household leaders extended only as far as they were able to mobilize their allies or use their social capital. Despite this anthropological foundation, there remain historically documented examples of larger regional political aggregations among the Coast Salish in the early postcontact era. Here we offer that the oral histories of the Battle at Maple Bay provide an opportunity to understand how such decentralized forms of sociopolitical organization based at the level of the household allied through existing sociopolitical networks to form powerful coalitions on an extensive regional scale. The Cultural Landscape of Maple Bay The Battle at Maple Bay settled long-standing enmities between the Coast Salish and Lekwiltok. For the Coast Salish, this politically transformative event was set in a cultural landscape meaningfully embedded with oral traditions of supernatural battle and justice that influence how they recount their stories of this postcontact event (fig. 2). Maple Bay, or Hwtl’upnets (“Deep-Watered Place” in the Hul’q’umi’num’ language), is a small cove located between Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island in southwestern British Columbia (Rozen 1985: 130–31). In Coast Salish creation narratives, Hwtl’upnets is a primordial battleground between supernatural human and nonhuman beings during the “Time of Transformation” (Cryer 1932a, 2007: 279–82; Curtis 1913: 170; Jenness 1934–35: 74; Rozen 1985: 132–33). Island Hul’qumi’num elders relate that the malevolent being, Sheshuq’um, or “Open–Mouthed,” lived in a cave at Octopus Point at the southern entrance to Maple Bay, where it would swamp canoes traveling through Sansum Narrows with its tongue, drowning and devouring travelers in the tidal rapids and whirlpools. Smaqw’uts

The Battle at Maple Bay





(“deep watered place,” the spot where Ts'inukw'a', a lightning snake, fell to its death)

(“bent over place,” kneeled down to allow Smaqw’uts to throw boulders at Sheshuq'um)

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2 km

Figure 2. Map of Maple Bay with place-names noted from the battles during the time of transformation

the giant, who lived on the mainland, slung titanic boulders across the Salish Sea in an attempt to destroy Sheshuq’um. After several failed attempts, Smaqw’uts convinced the mountain on Salt Spring Island, Hwmet’utsum, or “Bent-Over Place” (Mt. Maxwell), to kneel down, clearing the way, and Smaqw’uts was able to crush Sheshuq’um. Xalunamut (Mary Rice) relates that it was the Transformer Xeels’ who conquered Sheshuq’um and turned him to stone to “make the world right” (Cryer 1934). Island Hul’qumi’num elders also describe a story that relates to Hwtl’upnets, in which a lightning snake called Ts’inukw’a’ (Curtis 1913: 170; Rozen 1985: 133) fell from the Sky World, plunging into the waters of Maple Bay (Harris 1901: 14–15). In their canoes, the Cowichan surrounded the monster, killed it, and acquired its spirit power. Thus the battle that took place between Coast Salish and Lekwiltok much later occurs within a landscape of battles waged long ago. In the following, we describe how these mythical stories echo in Coast Salish oral narratives of the postcontact battle.

Table 1. Sources for primary accounts of the Battle of Maple Bay (with recorders’ initials corresponding to table 2) Recorder



Coast Salish Group Attribution

Robson, Ebenezer (ER) Tate, Charles Montgomery (CT) Boas, Franz (FB) Harris, Martha Douglas (MH) Hill-Tout, Charles (HT) Eells, Myron (ME) Bazett, L. Y. (LYB) Curtis, Edward S. (EC1) Curtis, Edward S. (EC2) Humphreys, John (JH) Lugrin, N. de Bertrand (NL) Cryer, Beryl M. (BC) Jenness, Diamond (DJ) Elmendorf, William W. (WE) McKelvie, Bruce A. (BM) Suttles, Wayne (WS) Simons, Margaret (MS) Bob, Lorna (LB) Rozen, David L. (DR)

1863 n.d. (ca. 1870s) 1889 1901 1907 1976 [ca. 1880s] 1910 1913 1913 n.d. (ca. post-1913) 1932 1932a 1934–35 1993 [1934–40] 1941 1949 1977 1980 1985

Cowichan Snuneymuxw Snuneymuxw Cowichan/Lyackson Cowichan/Lyackson Twana Cowichan Cowichan Puget Sound Cowichan/Chemainus East Saanich Penelakut East Saanich Twana Cowichan East Saanich Cowichan Cowichan Cowichan

McLay and Angelbeck (MA1) McLay and Angelbeck (MA2)

2007a 2007b

Skenahan Unknown Snuneymuxw chief Thomas James Thomas James “Twanas” Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Chief David La Tesse Cum-See-Tum (Ts’umsitun) Johnny Claxton Frank Allen Chief Charlie Louis Pelkey Robert Akerman Angus August Able D. Joe, Abraham Joe, Chris Paul, Gus Campbell Luschiim (Arvid Charlie) Thiyaas (Florence James)

Cowichan Penelakut

The Battle at Maple Bay


Coast Salish Oral Histories In total, we have presently located and compiled twenty-one primary accounts from ethnographic and ethnohistorical sources, both published and archival (table 1). Notably, all of these narratives are told from the perspective of the Coast Salish, the victors. In his work among the southern Kwakwaka’wakw, Curtis (1913) noted the Lekwiltok’s familiarity with the Battle at Maple Bay but was unable to acquire an account, finding that his informants “refuse to discuss this disastrous affair, frankly admitting, when pressed, that they prefer to talk about their victories” (34). In addition to these published and archival accounts, we were able recently to interview two Coast Salish elders, Luschiim (Arvid Charlie) of Cowichan Tribes and Thiyaas (Florence James) from Penelakut Tribe (McLay and Angelbeck 2007a, 2007b). Both elders are fluent in Hul’q’umi’num’ and related that they had first learned the story from their grandparents and also had heard it from other elders on several occasions. We conducted both of their interviews in a boat on location in Maple Bay. These elders sharing their stories in the original location helped us to better understand the many stories surrounding this historical event, its associated cultural landscape, and its continuing significance in Coast Salish social and political life today. The story of the Battle at Maple Bay is an example of what is known in Island Hul’qumi’num oral tradition as syuth, or “true history,” which is distinguished from fables and moral tales, or sxwi’em’ (Thom 2005: 84). Like most cultures, Coast Salish peoples are very concerned with the accurate communication of historical events, persons, and chronology over generations. The practice of narrating oral history was a specialized and elaborate cultural tradition among Coast Salish cultures, and the histories typically had social and political implications (Thom 2003, 2005; Bierwert 1999). For instance, the day of our field visit to Maple Bay, Luschiim recounted many stories to us on various topics, and he would often use this prefatory convention: “Now this is my great-grandfather, Luschiim, talking” (McLay and Angelbeck 2007a). With this statement, he pronounced that the story belongs to his great-grandfather, that it has been transferred to him from prior generations, and that this is a testament to its accuracy. Furthermore, he has a right to tell the story, as he has inherited the name, Luschiim. There is a great degree of consistency in the oral histories of this event that have been retold for over a century. Some accounts appear to have been documented perhaps only thirty or more years after the event. It is possible that some of the earliest accounts (e.g., Boas 1889; Eells 1976 [ca. 1880s]; Robson 1863) were from participants in the battle or certainly from those who knew the participants and heard accounts firsthand. The lineages for


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many of these tellings have direct lines to the participants only a few generations prior. Most ethnographers and non-aboriginal persons who documented the narratives unfortunately do not mention their informants’ names, or where, when, or how they heard the story told. Yet it is implicit in these narratives as popularly retold to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal audiences over many generations that this event is of significance for the history of Coast Salish families, peoples, and their relations. While there are multiple accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay, there are equally many variances in their details. The battle was of such a large scale, according to all accounts, that individuals and groups would have experienced it from different perspectives, and the accounts reflect that. Moreover, Luschiim informed us that there were “many stories” about the battle (McLay and Angelbeck 2007a). He related two versions about how it began. In his view, the second account provided details of which the other tellers may have been unaware; these were not necessarily in conflict. Here, we argue, it is precisely the variability that is of interest in understanding the way different individuals, families, and communities perceive, apply meaning, and retell the event in their own local history. In total, we present a panoply of local perspectives of the battle, as there is no one “Coast Salish” narrative but only unique narratives passed down through families across generations and between different communities. Bierwert (1999) emphasized the decentralized character of Coast Salish oral traditions, commenting that their oral narratives were “texts about different positions” (270– 71). She noted that many ethnographies obscure the plethora of views within a culture in creating a master narrative. To present a representative Coast Salish ethnography, Bierwert deployed a method that was “heterological”: one that incorporated many vantage points. In many respects, we adopt a similar approach in the analysis of these oral histories. And, similar to Cruikshank (2005: 47, 214), who has collated variant oral traditions in the Yukon, we intend that these “intersecting narratives” and “overlapping accounts” combine to enhance our understanding of the history and culture that is expressed through these tellings of the battle. In the following, we review the twenty-one different narratives to understand significant themes in the telling and retelling of this event. Given the multiplicity of oral histories, the particulars from these accounts provide the subject matter for our discussion of the processes and protocols of Coast Salish sociopolitical organization in addition to providing a sense of the oral tradition of this battle. While the following should not be read as a grand narrative, we do offer that it is valuable to compare these oral historical accounts, their similarities and differences, in a narrative sequence of common themes and events.

The Battle at Maple Bay


I: The Case for War The oral histories commonly begin with references to events prior to the Battle at Maple Bay, describing how the Lekwiltok raided their respective villages and enslaved their women and children. For instance, a Snuneymuxw informant recounted how the Lekwiltok sacked their village at night and captured the son of a chief, which set in motion a sequence of events leading to the battle at Maple Bay (Tate n.d.). Boas’s (1889) Snuneymuxw informant related that the Sechelt were attacked, and a chief, drawing on his daughter’s marriage tie, requested Snuneymuxw assistance. Together, they successfully attacked the Lekwiltok and this led to a cycle of further attacks and counterattacks, culminating in the battle at Maple Bay (324–25). To the Coast Salish, such repeated attacks by the Lekwiltok were considered unprovoked or otherwise unwarranted. For these reasons, an aggrieved Coast Salish chief, often Cowichan, makes a call for a council of war, inviting others from across the Salish Sea to ally against the Lekwiltok. From our compiled accounts, we list at least forty groups who claim, or are claimed, to have been involved in the alliance, including peoples from southern Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Mainland, and Puget Sound (table 2). In one account, they convened the council at Cowichan Bay (Humphreys n.d.). Others named Lyeeqsun (Shingle Point) on Valdes Island (Cryer 1932a) or Maple Bay itself (Tate n.d.). According to Frank Allen, there was a council of war in Puget Sound, where they proceeded one by one to answer whether or not they would ally to fight the Lekwiltok: All the Puget Sound war men met with the Nisqually to decide what to do. And they all asked one another, “What do you say now, Nisqually warrior man? What do you say, sαhe’wabš? What are you going to say, Snohomish? What do you say, Skagit men? What are you going to say, Swuqw’a’bš (Suquamish)?” Much discussion followed among the chiefs and warriors, and attention is given to each group to respond: And then qaba’xad, the Snohomish warrior, said, “I’m going to die or kill yəkwIłtax̣ , one of the two. All the time they are raiding us Snohomish, and now I’m mad! I’m going to yəkwIłtax̣ !” The big warrior from Skagit, dəxwsdi’λαb said, “I’m made to be a war man, and I’m not afraid of anything! I’m going to yəkwIłtax̣ !” Now the Lummi speak, č’a’’wicut, the great Lummi warrior, got up and said, “The yəkwIłtax̣ have been troubling us too much! I might as well die as not, so I’m going to kill them!” And now kc’a’p, Kitsap, the big famous warrior of the Suquamish, said “I’m going to die or kill yəkwIłtax̣ .” (Elmendorf 1993: 145)


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Table 2. Groups and their named warriors mentioned as participating in the Coast Salish alliance (with recorders’ initials corresponding to table 1) Coast Salish Group Northern Coast Salish "Sechelt "Comox Central Coast Salish "Squamish "Squamish "Capilano "Island Hul’qumi’num "Cowichan

"Chemainus "Thuq’min (Cekeme’n) "Q’ulits’ (Qela’ltq) "Lyackson "Taatka "Penelakut "Yuxwula’us (Yeqolas) "“Kuper Island” "Lamalchi "Snaw-naw-as (Snono’os) "Snuneymuxw "Halq’eméylem "“Fraser River” "Downriver Hunquminum "Musqueam "“New Westminster” "Tsawwassen "Straits Salish "Malahat "Esquimalt "Lummi "Pauquachin "Saanich "Songhees



FB DJ (also claimed as enemy: BC, CT, EC1, HT) DJ, HT LB



Tzouhalem, Thulpult, Tsosietena, Lexeəwalas




Ca’wicut Quala Wonthult

The Battle at Maple Bay


Table 2. (continued) Coast Salish Group


"Semiahmoo "Sooke "“Gulf” and “Islands” "“Gulf Islands” "“Salt Spring Island” "“Vancouver Island” Southern Coast Salish "“Puget Sound” "Northern Lushootseed "Cowlitz "Skagit "Snohomish "Swinomish "Shomamish "Southern Lushootseed "Duwamish "“Gig Harbour” "Klallam "Nisqually


"Puyallup "Sahewamish (sαhe’wabš) "Samish "Squaxon "Stehtsasamish "Suquamish

EC2 EC2, WE WS EC2 EC2 EC2, WE (Stukamish)

"Twana "Twana Southwestern Coast Salish "Upper Chehalis Sahaptin "Klickitatc



Wieno, X’e’calas Dexwsdix’ab Qaba’xad




č’u’ct, Təna’taltq Tshoultid,b Waxwel’u’t (Big Jim) Chidaskud Kolush, Qawila’š Kolush Swiyap Kitsap, Hiloquib, Da’wčays





aTsosieten has dual residence at the Shingle Point village on Valdes Island and Lower Cowichan River village, both named T’eet’qe (Rozen 1985: 74–79). bTshoultid is said to have led both Nisqually and Klickitat into battle; it is unclear which group he is associated with, but more likely Nisqually. cKlickitat are not a Coast Salish group but actually Sahaptin and are from Upper Cowlitz river area; notably, they are led by a Coast Salish warrior.


Bill Angelbeck and Eric McLay

And so it continued, with Squaxon, Sawhemish, Skokomish, and so on. However, not all the Coast Salish persons or groups in Puget Sound joined. Leschi, the famous Nisqually warrior, declined, although other Nisqually did join. A Skokomish leader also declined: “The yəkwIłtax̣ never bother me. And if they come to my country, I’ve got warriors and I’ve got a trap to kill them!” (Elmendorf 1993: 146). In these preliminaries to describing the battle, the narrators reveal how each Coast Salish group had its own reason to participate, or not, in the alliance. After describing the Coast Salish council (or councils) of war, most narrators described how the warriors readied for battle. The preparations are suggested to have taken a month (Humphreys n.d.) or several months (Bazett 1910). Settling on a strategy, the Coast Salish aimed to encounter the Lekwiltok on their terms. They knew the Lekwiltok heading southward would likely go through Sansum Narrows between Salt Spring and Vancouver Islands, and they positioned scouting parties (Boas 1889). The Lekwiltok were first sighted north of Maple Bay, where it was reported that there were “five hundred and eighty cooking fires on the beach at Nanaimo” (HillTout 1907: 372). “‘Hark! Hoo-ahoo-ahoole, the enemy is coming’ rings out along the line of watchmen” (Tate n.d.). II: The Battle at Maple Bay The night before the battle, the Lekwiltok were encamped north of Sansum Narrows; others say they were within Maple Bay. The Coast Salish alliance was prepared in great numbers. Louis Pelkey from Saanich recounted “over 1000 people” for the Coast Salish alliance (Suttles 1949). Charles Montgomery Tate’s (n.d) Snuneymuxw account described the arrival of 30 canoes of Snuneymuxw, 50 canoes of Cowichan, 20 canoes of Chemainus, and 30 canoes of Musqueam and Tsawwassen, or altogether 130 war canoes carrying over 5,000 warriors. For the Lekwiltok, Tate’s informant (see also Harris 1901) reported 300 canoes carrying 6,000 Lekwiltok warriors. The number of participants, of course, may be exaggerated on both sides. In all accounts other than Tate, the Coast Salish greatly outnumbered the Lekwiltok. Coast Salish Organization and Strategy The Battle at Maple Bay provides an example of Coast Salish warfare in the postcontact era beyond merely opportunistic raiding. Most accounts of the battle describe a well-organized and calculated surprise attack against the Lekwiltok that utilized scouts, signaling, strategic deception and tactical positioning, multiple lines of offense, and a variety of battle maneu-

The Battle at Maple Bay







= Lekwiltok Canoes 0


2 km

= Coast Salish Canoes

Figure 3. Map showing the Coast Salish surrounding the Lekwiltok in Maple Bay, after Humphreys (n.d.)

vers and tactics that took full advantage of the maritime landscape. To set up a strategic position for ambush, as many versions described, the Coast Salish used a decoy (Harris 1901; Hill-Tout 1907: 373; Humphreys n.d.; Lugrin 1932): a canoe or set of canoes apparently filled with women or old men (these were actually warriors in disguise). These canoes served to entice the Lekwiltok into the middle of the bay so the Coast Salish could engage the Lekwiltok on open water. As described by Chief David La Tesse, the Lekwiltok took the bait: “No need to paddle soft, think the Ukultahs [Lekwiltok]. The Southern Indians are afraid. They have fled before them. The noise of the Ukultahs’ paddles against the sides of the canoes is like thunder, and they shout and laugh and sweep like a cloud into Maple Bay” (Lugrin 1932: 39). The Coast Salish arranged a set of signals and calls to coordinate the timing for when to strike (Curtis 1913: 33; Hill-Tout 1907: 373). In detailed accounts, such as Humphrey (n.d.) and Tate (n.d.), the Coast Salish create multiple lines of offense for their attack (fig. 3):


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[The Youlcatas (Lekwiltok)] passed on into Maple Bay, and headed towards the southern Narrows. When they got to about the middle of the bay, the division of war canoes that were left to guard the Southern Narrows came out to meet them. The Youlcatas stopped, and seemed to be considering. Then the party who were left to guard the northern Narrows launched their canoes, and blocked any chance of escape by that passage. When the Youlcatas found both passages disputed, they began to paddle towards the west side of the bay. It was then that the third division came out of hiding, and the Youlcatas found themselves surrounded by an enemy more than twice their own strength. (Humphreys n.d.) As Johnny Claxton recounted, “The Kwakiutl were threatened with a surround” (Jenness 1934–35). When Thiyaas described it to us, she stretched out her arms: “They went like this!”—and she slowly swung her arms in—“they blocked it off” (McLay and Angelbeck 2007b). In one version, the Lekwiltok, realizing their outnumbered situation, tried to forestall a battle and negotiate for peace. According to Humphreys’s (n.d.) informant, a Cowichan warrior replied to the Lekwiltok’s overtures that “my people will have peace when the Youlcatas are shorn of their power to fight”; then a Coast Salish warrior fired an arrow into the Lekwiltok chief’s chest; he dropped into the water, initiating the battle. In describing how it ensued, La Tesse “brought his hands together, fingers sharply interlocked. ‘Like that the boats meet’” (Lugrin 1932). Battle Maneuvers and Tactics We discern two versions of the fight that next took place at the Battle at Maple Bay. In the first, the narrators explained that the battle continued within Maple Bay, where the Lekwiltok were forced to grapple with the Coast Salish alliance at sea. These narratives describe the practicalities of a waterborne melee, with torrents of arrows, spear thrusts, and the pummeling of clubs; some accounts featured firearms (e.g., Suttles 1949). Humphreys’s (n.d.) informant described how the Lekwiltok were surrounded and outmaneuvered in their canoes in Maple Bay and driven toward the beach to attempt escape, only to be massacred. In a Snuneymuxw account, Coast Salish groups lured the Lekwiltok into attacking a contingent of Coast Salish warriors on the beach, while the other allies, hidden around the southern point, moved in to ambush the Lekwiltok in Maple Bay (Tate n.d.). In the second version, a cordon of Coast Salish canoes drove a contingent of Lekwiltok canoes toward the bluffs south of Octopus Point within Sansum Narrows, where Coast Salish fighters were ready to ambush them

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(Cryer 1932a). Prior to the battle, they had situated boulders at the bluff edges, ready to be rolled off, for dropping on enemy canoes (Suttles 1949). In these accounts, the hurling of rocks was a decisive moment, crippling the Lekwiltok: This was the chance the Cowichans up on the rocks had been waiting for. Just as the first canoe got under the bluff those men took great rocks that they had collected and rolled them down right into the canoe, breaking it into pieces. On came the next, and the next canoes! Too late now to stop, and no good trying to turn back, for our canoes were close behind them! Twenty canoes went under that bluff, and only three got through. (Cryer 1932a) In other accounts, Lekwiltok canoes were channeled toward rock reefs hidden beneath the surface of the water (Jenness 1934–35). As Curtis (1913) recorded, “Some of them ran upon submerged rocks, and many were capsized. The others met the line of the allies, and some succeeded in breaking through, but most of those that did so were overturned in the swirls of the swiftly ebbing tide” (34). Either capsized, their canoes split, or knocked about, many Lekwiltok fell overboard, leaped, or sank into the water, “swimming for their lives” (Cryer 1932a). Then, the swamped Lekwiltok warriors were “speared like salmon” (Bazett 1910). Many narrators described how spirit powers were brought into offensive play by the Coast Salish, when leaders called on other warriors to conjure their “fighting medicine” (Curtis 1913: 15). In one account, a warrior used his rock spirit power to lift up the submerged reefs that trapped and upended enemy canoes (Bob 1980). Many Salish warriors sang their war songs to channel their spirit powers (Lugrin 1932). The Cowichan sang their war song of Ts’inukw’a’, the great serpent that fell from the skies into Maple Bay (Harris 1901; Hill-Tout 1907: 373). A warrior sang to enchant and weaken the enemy, related La Tesse: “It is like a spell, that voice high and far. To the dip of the paddle he sings, over and over, the same song. All those Ukultahs must listen. They cannot help. It is magic” (Lugrin 1932). End of the Battle From these numerous conflicts, Thomas James related, fifteen Lekwiltok canoes broke through the northern line of offense and fled north, but all were hunted down: “One of these was swamped off the point, three ran on a submerged reef and were wrecked, and the rest overtaken at Nanoose and their crews all slaughtered” (Hill-Tout 1907: 373). Other accounts recorded that some Lekwiltok fled to the beach at Maple Bay to escape the battle by


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land, but they were later tracked down and killed near Nanaimo or farther north (Curtis 1913: 34; Jenness 1934–35; Robson 1863). The Battle at Maple Bay, it is said, lasted without pause for a long full day (Tate n.d.), two days (Harris 1901), three days (McKelvie 1941), or even four (Hill-Tout 1907: 373). By its end, narrators commonly said, the bay was “red with the blood of the slain” (Hill-Tout 1907: 373; see also Harris 1901; McKelvie 1941; McLay and Angelbeck 2007b; Tate n.d.). The night the battle was over, the Coast Salish victors built bonfires in celebration around Maple Bay (Tate n.d.), burning as fuel the wreckage of Lekwiltok canoes (Suttles 1949). III: The Aftermath While the Battle at Maple Bay is regarded as the culmination of the Lekwiltok and Coast Salish wars, there are accounts of subsequent battles in which Coast Salish groups sacked Lekwiltok villages (Curtis 1913: 34–35; Harris 1901; Humphreys n.d.). In some tellings, they traveled in the Lekwiltok’s captured canoes, disguised as victorious warring parties, undertaking devastating surprise attacks on Lekwiltok villages and rescuing their own enslaved family members. Many narrators close by telling how the Coast Salish resolved the tensions with the Lekwiltok and their Comox allies by arranging a series of marriage alliances, ultimately creating a lasting peace between the two groups (e.g., Cryer 1932b; Jenness 1934–35). Johnny Claxton (Jenness 1934–35: 154) related that the Lekwiltok made peace through the arranged marriage of two women to leading Cowichan warriors, “Lexeəwalas and Tthasiyetan” (Tsosieten). In the story by Ts’umsitun, a Comox chief from Cape Mudge named Thuth-Luth married a woman related to Lyackson and Snuneymuxw (Cryer 1932b). The woman had a child, and her father, who was a chief on Valdes Island, called for a potlatch: “We will make peace! . . . There will be no more fighting with those Comox Indians! . . . This child will bring peace to us all, and both tribes will be good friends from this time!” (Cryer 1932b). Barnett (1955: 183) noted that Albert Westly of Snuneymuxw described an arrangement in which two women, one from Nanaimo and one from Kuper Island, had been married to men “living north of Comox to secure for their families immunity from war attacks,” a likely reference to the battle’s aftermath. These acts of diplomacy indicate how this battle and its aftermath politically transformed relations between the Coast Salish and Lekwiltok thereafter, ending the cycle of war.

The Battle at Maple Bay


An Exploration of Intersecting Accounts Although retold by different individuals and groups over many generations, Coast Salish narratives about the Battle at Maple Bay exhibit many common elements and themes: a history of Lekwiltok attacks; a council of war; the organization of a Coast Salish alliance; the setting at Maple Bay; a decoy canoe; the surprise ambush of the Lekwiltok; the use of overwhelming numbers; the Coast Salish strategic use of local geography; the massacre of the Lekwiltok; the bay turning red with blood; and the ending of the conflicts by the destruction of the Lekwiltok villages and the rescue of enslaved family members. Consistently, the Battle at Maple Bay is described as the last great battle between the Coast Salish and the Lekwiltok. Furthermore, it is said to be the initiation of a lasting regional peace. Predominantly, inconsistencies in these accounts concern nominal attributions of the opponents, irregularities of specific locales, or the presence or absence of certain narrative elements such as decoys, scouts, or boulders. However, such inconsistencies involve particulars that have little or no impact on how Coast Salish groups perceive the event overall or its meaning. Such differences also may be attributable to the perspective of their original informant, translation errors, or the recorder’s lack of familiarity with local geography. The importance of the story of the Battle at Maple Bay is its multivocality; these are Coast Salish oral histories that express many different perspectives and versions. In the following section, we evaluate three main themes behind the story of the Battle at Maple Bay that indicate the manner in which broad-scale cooperation can be operationalized by disparate households within regional kinship networks, and we illustrate how the Coast Salish established protocols for conflict resolution and peace. Throughout, these accounts put forward common consistencies while maintaining local variances. Alliance The Battle at Maple Bay provides one of the few historical instances of widespread political cooperation among the Coast Salish. As told by La Tesse, they had “become one people” (Lugrin 1932). This battle was an extraordinary event for Coast Salish peoples, especially considering that most endeavors involved only a small number of households, and most expeditions for warfare would have included a minor fraction of the reported numbers. The distribution of groups that are claimed to have participated in the battle also suggests its far-reaching regional scale. Wayne P. Suttles


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(1954) noted that the nature of the alliance required to plan and execute this battle confounded traditional models of Coast Salish political organization: “Evidently tribes from the Nanaimo to the Suquamish and the Skagit participated; the degree of cooperation and basis of organization, in what appears to be a rather loosely organized society, presents an interesting problem which has yet to be solved” (46). While Suttles expressed puzzlement over the scale of organization for the Battle at Maple Bay, his own research provides insight into how such regional coalitions may have formed. As discussed earlier, while households routinely allied for most practical daily purposes with nearby households, leaders would prefer to ally with other influential households further away, which enabled access to distant resources and signaled greater prestige. Also, through the potlatch and winter ceremonies, Coast Salish household leaders solicited affines, but they also could invite and gift non-affines into political alliance (e.g., Ferguson 1983). It is these kinship networks drawn upon by the Coast Salish through which larger scales of political cooperation were enacted, and these were especially drawn upon in times of warfare.7 An account recorded by Boas (1889) illustrates how these affinal relations were called on in the events immediately preceding the Battle at Maple Bay: “Koä’ělite, a chief of the Sī’ciatl [Sechelt], had a daughter who was the wife of a chief of the Snanaimuq. Once upon a time the former tribe was attacked by the Lē’kwiltoka, and many men had been killed. Then Koä’ělite sent to the chief of the Snanaimuq and called upon him for help. They set out jointly” (324). As Harris (1901) similarly had recorded, “The Cowichans did not wait long, but hurried to the New Westminster people and asked their help. They are related to the Cowichans” (13). Such narratives reveal how cooperation between independent groups can be understood to expand through kin networks rather than be directed from a centralized structure (Angelbeck 2009; Miller 1989; Miller and Boxberger 1994).8 Such a form of cooperative organization can retain its locus of autonomy at the household scale but enact alliances readily with other households and groups. In his discussion of sociopolitical forms of the Coast Salish, Keith Thor Carlson (2003) stressed that “the key to understanding more formal Coast Salish political affiliations, such as emerged in certain parts of Puget Sound in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, was to recognize that they were built upon social networks which at certain times, and under certain circumstances, could be operationalized into a formal political unity” (23). Building on anthropological understandings of Coast Salish sociopolitical networks (Kennedy 2000, 2007; Miller 1989; Suttles 1960, 1963; Thom 2005), these accounts of Maple Bay provide a historical example of how a network form of cooperative political organization became region-

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ally mobilized. Numerous households and local groups simultaneously called on distant relatives and allies who, in turn, appealed to their own kinship relations—linking networks with other networks—and galvanized the vast potential of the Coast Salish web of social relations. Ultimately, this coalition was said to have comprised a majority of Coast Salish groups. Those that participated in the coalition were drawn predominantly from groups living within the Salish Sea, comprising the Gulf of Georgia and Puget Sound. While there was not total participation, there were Coast Salish groups from all regions (see table 2). Even distant warriors from Comox in the north and the Cowlitz from the south were claimed to have participated in the alliance. These included the southwestern Coast Salish, the furthest from the battlefield and never raided by the Lekwiltok, by any account. Narrators described even Sahaptin, a non-Salishan group from the Interior plateau, as allied with the Coast Salish (Curtis 1915: 14–16). While the list of participant groups varies from account to account and may be embellished by some, it is a common theme of these oral histories that many groups participated in the alliance and that they came even from great distances within the Coast Salish region.9 An intriguing detail from the accounts of Battle at Maple Bay concerns what happened prior to the battle. In many narratives, the decision to hold such a huge council of war was initiated by the Cowichan. Yet, just in the weeks before the battle, some narrators recounted, the Cowichan had been raiding and pillaging other Coast Salish villages throughout Puget Sound; in particular, the Snohomish were identified as their victims (Bob 1980; Harris 1901; Hill-Tout 1907: 372; McKelvie 1941). Ironically, when the Cowichan returned home, they found their own villages devastated by the Lekwiltok: many men were slaughtered and their wives and children taken as slaves. Faced with such ruination of their homes and families, they determined to end such attacks. They then called on other Coast Salish groups for aid, including groups in Puget Sound—even the Snohomish—to join in the alliance. They invited the Klallam and other groups with whom they were longtime “enemies.” These narratives indicate the contextual nature of enmity and alliance. In essence, the accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay illustrate a remarkable historical example of how autonomous households mobilized networks of kin and other allies throughout the Coast Salish region. This broad-scale political coalition was able to call on and mobilize affinal relations over great distances as well as to transcend local enmities. While anthropologists have debated the fundamental unit of political cohesion among the Coast Salish, these accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay reveal that the scale of political cooperation was locally based, context-dependent, and provi-


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sional; moreover, these broader forms of cooperation could subside once the goals were achieved. These narratives also indicate that, within such broad-scale political alliances, the Coast Salish were able to retain the autonomy of local groups and households. Autonomy While the Maple Bay story is an example of Coast Salish unity, it is also an expression of Coast Salish autonomy in unity, a whole composed of parts. The multivocality of Coast Salish oral historical accounts allows us to view the conflict from various nodes in the Coast Salish network. Each of these stories is told from a local perspective, and each respective version reveals how each family, village, or community had their own reasons for wanting to defeat the Lekwiltok. While they responded collectively to the common threat, each Coast Salish group involved had their own stories, their own histories of attacks, kidnappings, and slave raids by the Lekwiltok, as seen in the account by Allen (Elmendorf 1993: 145). In many instances, differences between accounts in the details of the battle itself indicate how each group may have experienced the conflict or played distinct parts in the battle. For instance, some discussed aspects of the preparations, words, or deeds that occurred just before battle, or aspects of tracking and killing the escaping enemy, that were not present in other accounts. Also, the variant descriptions—with emphases on the fight at sea, beach, or bluffs—are likely the result of different groups’ participation in distinct theaters of battle, as attested in the more detailed accounts. Thus, while many groups in the alliance participated in this large battle, each individual and each group experienced it in different ways and retold the story as maintained by their warriors’ experiences. In these narratives, the Battle at Maple Bay is generally celebrated as a great victory by the united Coast Salish. However, there are at least two variants that suggest this battle was regarded by some Puget Sound groups as an “ill-fated expedition” (Curtis 1913: 14–16; see also Eells 1976 [ca. 1880s]: 89).10 Since so many of their warriors had died or suffered, the battle was described as a loss, despite an overall victory for the Coast Salish. These accounts highlight how the battle is portrayed quite differently by various Coast Salish groups in the alliance, reflecting how narratives of the battle ultimately are local expressions. This sense of local independence is also readily seen in how respective accounts of the battle celebrate a group’s own leaders and warriors as opposed to others (see table 2). When considered in total, it cannot be said which warriors were most important; rather, many warriors were impor-

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tant, particularly for the families and villages and communities they represented. That is, there is no hierarchy of Coast Salish leadership in these accounts, but a heterarchy of great warriors. When viewed in combination, the array of heroes reveals a seeming Coast Salish contestation, as each narrator highlights his or her own family’s or community’s undertaking a lead role in the decisive battle. The prevalent implication is that no dominant central authority made an order to fight this battle; rather, it was a council of chiefs (Elmendorf 1993: 145–47; Jenness 1934–35). Councils, as temporary and noncentralized political organizations, are a common form of Coast Salish decision making in which consensus is reached among representative leaders. While authorities are present in councils, in the form of individuals with chiefly roles, no central authority is needed in order for decisions and plans to be implemented. Councils are features of community governance that, in part, continue to this day (Bierwert 1999: 12–13; Miller 2001: 38–39, 180, 207). It is through such decentralized political formations and processes that widespread agreement could occur among regionally disparate and autonomous groups, leading to broad-scale coordinative action. While there was a great confederation for this battle, it was not total Coast Salish unity: some, like Leschi, the famous Nisqually warrior, declined to join the alliance (Elmendorf 1993: 145); others, such as the Comox, in some accounts, actually allied with the Lekwiltok (Cryer 1932a, 1932b; Hill-Tout 1907: 373; Tate n.d.). The Comox play an ambiguous and often duplicitous role in the accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay that is yet another expression of Coast Salish autonomy. Throughout the broader wars, the Comox allowed other Coast Salish groups to camp at their villages en route to attack Lekwiltok villages (Jenness 1934–35; Tate n.d.). Comox groups also allowed the Lekwiltok to camp as they passed through to raid other Coast Salish groups; in one account, however, some households were not as welcoming: they deceitfully invited Lekwiltok into their houses in order to kill them (Curtis 1915: 110–12). Such accounts provide another instance of autonomy, not just of local groups but of the independence of households within communities. The oral histories about this battle illustrate a core principle of Coast Salish political organization, which is that Coast Salish households and local groups to a great extent act autonomously, but they organize together through regional kinship networks to meet mutual goals. In the absence of those shared goals, local autonomy predominates. Even when operating at the broadest scale, it is done in a fashion that retains the autonomy of local groups as they engage through their representatives in councils, either chiefs or their warriors. In this case, once the external threat of the Lekwil-


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tok had dissipated, each Coast Salish community in the alliance returned to its typical autonomous forms of political interaction. Political autonomy is strident among the Coast Salish. As numerous ethnographers have described, the political emphasis of identity is bottomup, based upon the household, extended families, and local communities. This basis in local autonomy does not preclude larger forms of interaction. Yet, to this day, preference for local identity and control serves to politically challenge the creation of new forms of Coast Salish tribal governance structures and treaty negotiations at a regional scale (Thom 2010). For this reason, the Battle at Maple Bay provides a unique historic expression of political unity actualized on an extensive regional scale. Justice A third theme underlying the many different Coast Salish oral historical accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay is the concept of justice and conflict resolution. According to Miller (2001), the Coast Salish world exists as a “web of social relations” where protocol and proper etiquette mediate complex relations and interactions among persons, households, villages, and different communities. A characteristic Coast Salish emphasis is the “avoidance of conflict,” in which proper training, education, and practical knowledge of social protocols is essential to uphold personal reputation and maintain peaceful relations (Miller 2001: 62). Where conflict and intercommunity violence occurs, Coast Salish customs and protocols provide an array of means to restore social relations. Households were collectively responsible for the actions of members, and any offense to another person, such as murder, required payment in compensation to the victim’s family (Barnett 1955: 270; Jenness 1934–35: 64). Other social practices to control behavior were banishment, repudiation and isolation, or retaliatory physical violence equal to the original offense. Such dispute resolution practices were negotiated by councils of influential men and by public ceremonies to formally end such intercommunity conflict (Barnett 1955: 270; Miller 2001: 63). Intercommunity violence was a regular occurrence among Coast Salish in the postcontact era. In collections of oral histories about warfare, the majority of battles recounted were fought between Coast Salish groups (Angelbeck 2009: 227–29). Groups in conflict had recourse to protocols for resolving battles and to individuals respected by both parties who were able to adjudicate such negotiations. At various stages when conflicts escalated—from scrimmage to murder to attack and counterattack—groups could call on mutually respected intermediaries to negotiate blood-money

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payments or to otherwise adjudicate disputes. Yet, despite the degree of warfare present among Coast Salish groups, the Lekwiltok raiding parties appear to have provoked especial fear among the Coast Salish. The Lekwiltok existed outside the Coast Salish network of kin relations and left an annual wake of violence and theft. As raiders, the Lekwiltok had little interest in the creation, let alone restoration, of productive social relations. In the different accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay, the council of war serves not only as an intercommunity process for the Coast Salish to produce a political alliance, but as a mechanism to enact social justice, in which attending Coast Salish agreed by consensus that their protocols were to be upheld against a common enemy. Consequently, the Battle at Maple Bay may be viewed as the collective enforcement of such Coast Salish retribution, in which the Lekwiltok were punished for their unwarranted violence. It is in this light that the theme of justice manifests in the many accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay, invoking parallels between this postcontact conflict and the primordial mythical battles that occurred in the same cultural landscape during the creation era. As Sheshuq’um, the monster at Octopus Point, blocked canoes from passing safely through the narrows, the Coast Salish alliance ambushed the Lekwiltok, swamped their canoes, and drowned them in the tidal currents and whirlpools. As Smaqw’uts and Xeels’ threw giant stones to kill the monster, the Coast Salish hurled rocks and boulders from the bluffs overlooking Sansum Narrows to wreck Lekwiltok canoes below. As in the story of Ts’inukw’a’, the powerful lightning snake that fell long ago into the depths of Maple Bay, the Coast Salish surrounded the Lekwiltok within this same bay and vanquished them. Indeed, the Cowichan sang their war song of Ts’inukw’a’ as they fought the Lekwiltok during the Battle at Maple Bay (Curtis 1913: 170; Harris 1901: 14). Through this song, the Cowichan were deploying the spirit power of the lightning snake in that very battle; this was not just an allusion, in their view, but the same spirit power from the Time of Transformation enacted under their control. Certainly, each narrator is accentuating dramatic elements that make the event legendary and memorable. But, again, these aspects are of particular interest here, for the cultural landscape provided a rich metaphorical subtext that highlighted the historic nature of this battle against the Lekwiltok for a knowing Coast Salish audience. By symbolically referencing the creation narratives of the landscape and seascape of Maple Bay, the tellers also mirrored the theme of enacting supernatural justice against a seemingly unconquerable enemy to “make the world right.” Once justice was implemented, the Coast Salish protocols to establish peace involved formal public ceremonies such as a restorative potlatch or strategic marriage alliances between households and communities (Bar-


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nett 1955: 270–71; Miller 2001: 62–63). For this reason, the cycle of war is described as not having generally ended after the Battle at Maple Bay or the subsequent defeat of the Lekwiltok villages, but with the establishment of new marriage ties. Soon after the battle, several Coast Salish groups established affinal alliances with the Lekwiltok (Assu and Inglis 1989:12– 13; Boas 1889:325; Cryer 1932b; Curtis 1913: 34; Jenness 1934–35).11 It is remembered among the Cowichan that a key marriage is known to have taken place between a Cowichan woman and a Lekwiltok man from Cape Mudge. As Brian Thom (2005) noted, “This important marriage reopened the Cape Mudge area for island Coast Salish people to fish and camp at for generations after the couples were wed” (362). As Simon Charlie, one of Thom’s informants, described: “That’s when we stopped. They wanted to stop the wars that we had with the Yuqwulhte’x. So they got two young people together to stop the war. Those elders [were] one of the last ones that got married to a Yuqwulhte’x person. They stopped the war. That is why we got that fishing ground right there in Cape Mudge” (363). Such marriage alliances and ceremonies provide recognition that the locus of power for the Coast Salish is not within a central core or at a regional scale, but resides in influential household leaders throughout their territory. Marriages are arranged between households, not between villages or regional groups. A key point is that Coast Salish groups resolved this seemingly interminable era of warring by bringing the Lekwiltok into social affliliation: former enemies became kin. Conclusion The Battle at Maple Bay is a significant Coast Salish oral history and one of the most frequently documented accounts in the Coast Salish region. We have emphasized its multivocality, and such multiple perspectives allow the analysis of this historical event through several lines of comparability. We conclude that the major elements of this historical event are largely consistent across peoples and communities over time. Where there are contradictions, many concern errors of nominal attribution or facts having little impact on the event’s overall meaning for the Coast Salish. Where there are major differences, we discern that the nature of such elements arises from local emphases or different perceptions and experiences of the historical event rather than from contradictions of fact. Indeed, such differences in the telling of these narratives are important for revealing the divergences and intersections of local perspectives. We argue that the oral histories of this battle reveal insights into the dynamics of Coast Salish political organization, specifically the persistent

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challenges and interplay between alliance and autonomy. The formation of the alliance for the Battle at Maple Bay represents one of the few historical instances of broad-scale political cooperation among the Coast Salish. Contrasting with regional models of centralized chiefdoms, these narratives highlight how the bottom-up, decentralized sociopolitical organization of the Coast Salish allowed households to be the predominant form of power, anchoring power in the local while having the potential for extensive regional scope. This oral tradition also illustrates how heterarchical forms of political organization attempt to balance the benefits of both independence and cooperation. The Coast Salish collectively responded to the common threat of the Lekwiltok, yet the multivocality of oral historical accounts expresses how members of each Coast Salish group elevated their own leaders’ role, their own rationales for war, and the parts they played in the decisive victory. The core principle illustrated is that individuals and households can cooperate through networks of kinship alliances to strategically form larger, more powerful organizations for certain purposes at a regional scale. However, in the absence of such common goals, autonomy prevails among the Coast Salish. In this essay, we argue that these oral narratives enlighten a problem that has challenged ethnographers such as Suttles: how such a “loosely organized society” could politically organize into a regional force. This coalition was able to politically transform regional relations and enact justice, to “make the world right.” In the end, we maintain that the oral histories of the Battle at Maple Bay provide insight into the political dynamics of Coast Salish kinship networks, the interplay between local autonomy and cooperation in alliance, and the drive for enacting justice, the tensions of which persist in Coast Salish community politics today. Notes We are grateful to Luschiim (Arvid Charlie) and Thiyaas (Florence James) for sharing their stories about this important historical event with us on location at Maple Bay. We thank Brian Thom, Joey Caro, Grant Keddie, Bruce Miller, Michael Harkin, and the anonymous reviewers for providing comments on the draft of this manuscript. Any errors are the sole responsibility of the authors. 1 We use the term oral tradition to refer to a body of histories that have been transmitted verbally through the generations. The use of tradition acknowledges that there are cultural protocols that steer the telling of a history and ensure accuracy across generations. We are aware of the common use of the term oral tradition to refer to a dynamic story that has been passed down from generations past, as opposed to oral history for an individual’s account of his or her experiences (see Vansina 1985: 12, 28). However, such a definition of oral tradition has conno-








Bill Angelbeck and Eric McLay tations of passing along customs, values, and beliefs rather than of history as a chronicle of events, the concern being that some may misinterpret the dynamic nature of tradition to belie the authenticity and accuracy of its content as proof of historical facts. After Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia (1997) 3 S.C.R. 1010, First Nations oral histories have legal weight in courts, where the connotations of tradition may not be suitable. We argue that oral history should include any accounts that purport to be a testimony about the chronology of past events. Our aim is to rehabilitate the definition of oral history from personal memory to that of collective history. There are numerous historical spellings used for the Southern Kwakwaka’wakw; for example, David L. Rozen (1985: 22) lists twenty-six spellings or references. The spelling “Lekwiltok,” used in the Fort Langley Journals (Maclachlan 1998; Suttles 1998), is also a common spelling used by Wilson Duff (n.d.) in his manuscript on the groups, which covers the time period of their conflicts with the Coast Salish. Today, descendant communities use the spelling “Laich-Wil-Tach.” We use Hul’q’umi’num’ to denote the Halkomelem language dialect (formerly Island Halkomelem) spoken in the Gulf Islands and southeastern Vancouver Island, while the term Island Hul’qumi’num refers to the people. We follow Hul’q’umi’num’ orthography of Coast Salish place-names, persons, and words as referenced from the Hul’q’umi’num’ dictionary (Quw’ustun S-ul’hween Advisory Committee 2007). Significant demographic and political change occurred among both the Coast Salish and Lekwiltok in the postcontact period as a result of the death or destruction of whole communities by warfare or epidemics, which led to the amalgamation of households and villages. Just as groups such as “Cowichan,” “Twana,” or “Lekwiltok” were documented in the historical record, they were in the process of undergoing fundamental shifts of residence, identity, political alliances, and enmities in the region (Angelbeck 2007; Carlson 2007; Miller and Boxberger 1994; Thom 2005). Similarly, from a worldwide perspective, R. Brian Ferguson and Neil L. Whitehead (1992: 12–16; Whitehead 1992) have described how many small-scale societies formed “tribal” identities in periods of warfare after Western contact; and they noted how such warfare contributed to the building of alliances while at the same time hardening oppositions between groups at other scales. Bilateral kinship practices allowed flexibility for individuals to reside or align with households on either their mother’s or father’s side, which Brian Thom (2005) explains allowed for individuals to be “comfortable with multiple identities, where connections to multiple places and mythic histories may be played to economic and social advantage” (113). June McCormick Collins (1979) succinctly describes multilineal descent as a “Coast Salish strategy” for individuals to pursue status and residence through numerous kinship relations that served to enhance societal flexibility and autonomy. Similarly, concerning the larger category of beyond the village or local group— “tribes”—Kennedy (2000) has stated that these should be more accurately conceived as “clusters of villages” which have “enough unity to be recognized as a named group, often with its own distinct dialect or language, and identification with a specific area” (3); but these were not political units. Archaeologists have argued that such networks of social interaction and defensive sites were present in the Gulf of Georgia region extending over the last

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1,500 to 2,000 years (Brown 1996; Burley 1980: 63–67; Grier 2003; Keddie 1984, 1996–97). David Schaepe (2006) has provided an archaeological example of defensive networks in the Fraser Canyon, where rock-walled fortifications exhibited lines of sight between fortifications and lookouts. He argued that this evidence indicated an intercommunity coordination of defense beyond the scale of the household but operated without a need for centralized control. A similar network of defensive sites in an island setting has also been argued for the northern Gulf of Georgia (Angelbeck 2009: 248–61). While these archaeological examples are suggestive of intercommunity coordination for local defense, the Battle at Maple Bay provides a historical example of a much larger regional scale of political cooperation that involved mobilizing intercommunity alliances across the Coast Salish world. This strident autonomy exhibited by the Coast Salish throughout their past has been described as expressions of a set of cultural principles that favor local independence but that also encourage voluntary participation in cooperative endeavors on a variety of scales; rather than centralized or hierarchical, this type of complex sociopolitical organization is decentralized and heterarchical. It can be viewed as an anarchic form of sociopolitical organization and has been evaluated using principles from the theory of anarchism (Angelbeck 2009). There were other historical occasions when the Coast Salish cooperatively acted in large aggregations. The Fort Langley Journals include several instances when Coast Salish groups allied to avenge Lekwiltok raids (Maclachlan 1998: 72–74, 152, 160). Oral histories also record that Coast Salish groups allied for similar retaliatory expeditions (Curtis 1915: 107–8; Boas 1889: 325). There are examples from timeframes after the Battle at Maple Bay, including a large gathering to attack “northern raiders” such as Tlingit, Haida, or Bella Bella that was held in Lummi territory in 1857; this notably was attended to by General George Pickett while he was heading the fort in Bellingham, Washington (letter by unknown author in Puget Sound district correspondence, Olympia, Washington, May 1, 1857; cited in Roberts 1975). In another example, Coast Salish groups allied together, although not for war, in Puget Sound for the signing of the Point Elliot Treaty in 1855 (Harmon 1998: 226). Strikingly, in one Puget Sound account, it is said that the enemy is the Cowichan, which indicates the intensity of fighting among the Coast Salish. However, in other regards, the details are consistent with the other Maple Bay accounts. Both Edward S. Curtis (1915: 14–16) and William W. Elmendorf (1993: 153) regarded it as a variant Maple Bay account due to particular shared aspects. Not all accounts of the Battle at Maple Bay close with peace. For instance, in Curtis (1913: 34–35), one Cowichan group invited the Lekwiltok back to their villages for a restorative potlatch, only to murder them before the ceremony. It provides yet another expression of how local Coast Salish groups pursued independent goals, even in conflict resolution.

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