With files and research support by Kayla Empey
Content warning: This story contains content about residential “schools.” Please read with care.
This story was originally written and published by our sister publication, Sun Peaks Independent News.
Place names can uncover a lot of important history of an area. Towns and villages named after people, like Louis Creek, raise questions about the impact that person might have had.
Louis Creek is the name of both a stream off the North Thompson River and a settlement just north of Sun Peaks. So, who was Louis?
Well, it depends who you ask. Some sources say it was named after Louis Barrie and François Lavieur, two French prospectors who found gold in the area in 1861. It’s claimed that the stream became known as Frenchman’s Creek or Louis Creek, and later the village took on the same name.
However, there isn’t much information on who these men were other than early prospectors. That might be why others say Louis Creek was named after a different man, one who provides more historical context to what the area has become: Louis Clexlixqen, the longest-running Chief of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, whose leadership spanned over 60 years.
To learn more about the legacy of Chief (Kúkpi7) Louis, The Wren reached out to The Secwépemc Museum to talk with the manager of the language and culture department and Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Diena Jules.
Born in 1828, Chief Louis was also known as Petit Louis or Hli Kleh Kan and was a prominent figure in both Indigenous and settler communities.
LAND BACK AND CHIEF LOUIS’ POLITICAL LEGACY
Chief Louis became the Secwépemc Hereditary Chief around 1855. His years as Chief are significant in Tk’emlups (Kamloops) history, as his leadership spanned decades, ending with his death in 1915.
He spent many years advocating for land to be returned to the Secwépemc Peoples, meeting with the Governor General and other political figures across the province. He also travelled to Ottawa and then to Europe, where he met with the Pope.
“Initially, we had a very large reserve,” Jules said. “When Sir James Douglas first established the reserves…it was quite large, it was back to the mountains so it was the whole area here. Then when Joseph Trutch came in and…in 1871, it was reduced to three miles by three miles.”
Under Chief Louis’ leadership and the threat of war, the boundaries of the reserve were extended to “seven miles by seven miles, including five different hunting and fishing sites,” according to Jules.
“As far as I know, this is the only reserve where the boundaries were extended.”
In establishing an agreement for the creation of the Kamloops Residential “School” (KIRS), Chief Louis also exercised masterful foresight in requiring that the initial 360 acres of land for the school be returned if not used for the benefit of Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, one of 17 bands that make up the Secwépemc Nation.
“So that’s what happened, all of the land reverted back to – [Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc] was called the Kamloops Indian Band back then,” Jules said. “With some of the existing reserves that have residential schools on them, they didn’t have the same agreement that Chief Louis had. All of the communities that didn’t have that foresight of a great leader like Chief Louis, they don’t own the land.”
Chief Louis was also integral in the fight for water access for his and other Indigenous peoples. The reserve in Tk’emlups (Kamloops) relied heavily on Paul Lake and according to Jules, the creek was highly important for the irrigation of fields, gardens, cattle and horses and sometimes drinking water.
“Harper Ranch and the Indian Agents would sometimes cut that off from the community, so Chief Louis really fought hard to ensure that we obtain our rights,” she said.
The power the Indian Agents had over Indigenous peoples under the Indian Act allowed them to have final say over many aspects of life, dividing society along racial lines— much to the detriment of Indigenous people.
“Chief Louis with his work did an incredible amount of advocating for people all the time,” Jules said. “And it wasn’t just for this band, it was for other bands within the nation and then he also met with other Chiefs from different nations. He was a part of the whole group that kept fighting for Indigenous rights, land and title because he could feel all of those things stripped away.”
Chief Louis’ political prowess has also extended well beyond his years as a leader. His collaboration with the Chiefs of different bands and Nations helped to create the 1910 memorial to Sir Wilred Laurier, which Jules said is still utilised today for political agreements.
Chief Louis also became a church Chief, an appointment instituted by missionaries of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, after he converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1860s. As a believer in the teachings of the Catholic Church, Jules was close with Reverend Father Jean-Marie-Raphaël Le Jeune for a time.
“Chief Louis helped to encourage other different band Chiefs to learn the Chinook jargon so they could encourage their communities to become Catholic,” Jules told SPIN. “Father Le Juene even took him to Rome to meet the Pope because he was really proud of his accomplishments in working with him.”
Chief Louis’ relationship with Father Le Jeune was notable throughout his time as Chief, as the two initially had a strong working relationship, according to Jules.
Notably, Father La Juene worked hand-in-hand to create the Kamloops Wawa, which translates to Kamloops Talk, a newspaper that circulated B.C. in Chinook Jargon.
“We did have a trade language – the Chinook Jargon – we did have that already for centuries before non-Indigenous people even came here, but that Chinook Jargon was used by Father Le Juene to develop the Kamloops Wawa, which was a newspaper that was spread throughout B.C.,” Jules said. “Those are big impacts.”
The paper, which was based in Catholicism from the start, was published using Chinook jargon in the Roman alphabet, in shorthand and in English and Father Le Juene recruited Indigenous correspondents to publish news from Indigenous communities.
As an ardent supporter of education and Catholicism, Chief Louis believed in the work Father Le Juene was doing at the time, Jules said.
“He wanted our people to be on equal terms as the rest of society. He believed, and rightly so, that we were no different and we had the same knowledge, skills and abilities as the rest of society.”
However, by the 1900s Chief Louis was beginning to hear stories of mistreatment and abuse and according to Jules, his support for the schools was broached during the 1910 negotiations. While he agreed and maintained his support for education, he voiced concerns about Indigenous children losing their language and culture, being separated from their families and experiencing abuse, mistreatment and neglect, all of which occurred at the KIRS and residential “schools” across the country.
Chief Louis testified at the McKenna McBride Commission in 1914 and is quoted as saying: “All that I know is, that a long time ago we made arrangements to build a school on this reserve, and it was supposed to be a Catholic School, and we built one…I expected to see my people improve when they first went to the Industrial School, but I have not seen anything of it. When they come out from school they don’t seem to have improved much.”
KIRS remained open despite Chief Louis’ and others concerns, attempting to deprive children of their ancestral languages, physically and sexually abusing them and causing generations of trauma. In 2021, ground penetrating technology confirmed the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former school.
The school closed in 1977, but the building has remained open as a centre for Indigenous culture with the Secwépemc Museum, heritage park and powwow circle. It was later renamed Chief Louis Centre.
Chief Louis’ personal legacy
Chief Louis was also a rancher and one of the wealthiest members of the band, according to an inventory taken in 1877 of farm stock. It says he owned 30 horses, 25 cattle, 30 pigs and 50 hens.
Even with an impressive homestead, Jules said Chief Louis shouldn’t be portrayed as just a family man or a rancher. He was much more than that and parlayed his interests in horses and livestock into thriving trade relationships.
The natural abundance of the confluence region supported agriculture and ranching for Secwépemc Peoples and much later settlers. People would travel through the area with the fur trade or gold rush and get horses, resulting in the area being home to thousands of them. This stoked Chief Louis’ interest in horse racing, gaining him respect among the broader Kamloops community.
Though possibly his most lasting legacy is his resilience in terrifying and changing times, during which he witnessed the attempted decimation of his people, the theft of Indigenous land and a changing political landscape that would impact Indigenous communities for years.
“When you think of what Chief Louis witnessed first-hand, that was a lot,” Jules said. “Going through the small pox, the whooping cough and also seeing people going off to war in World War I, you can’t even imagine seeing two thirds of the Secwépemc Nation being wiped out and then all of the changes with the church and then with the gold rush and the fur trade, he witnesses all of those first-hand and yet he was able to maintain and keep working to better the rights of his people, but not just for this reserve, it was for the nation.”
When he went to England, Jules said it was in pursuit of equality and rights. When he was home, he was dedicated to leading his people and helping others. And when he passed on, nearly 60 years after becoming Chief, he left behind a legacy of a fighting spirit of a great visionary leader who, as Jules said, “will have lasting impacts for generations to come.”
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