The Native Voice: Maisie Hurley’s “Political Diary”

The British Historical Federation awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Historical Writing Honourable Mention to Eric Jamieson for his historical book, The Native Voice: The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada’s First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation on May 27.

Eric Jamieson, a former banker in British Columbia, developed a passion for writing at an early age through his grandfather’s adventure stories for young boys. As Jamieson grew older, Roderick Haig-Brown, a Canadian writer and Conservationist, instilled a sense of language and love of nature in him.

“I just fell in love with his writing,” says Jamieson.

Jamieson wrote outdoor stories, fishing articles and backpacking articles for magazines and newspapers such as The Times Colonist Newspaper which was a big diversion from his banking career. He gradually wrote non-fiction historical subjects.

In 2009, Eric Jamieson received the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for History Writing with his book, Tragedy at Second Narrows.

Interest in the Native culture and Maisie Hurley

Jamieson studied the First Nations History and Culture through the Anthropology and Archaeology courses he took at the University of British Columbia.

Maisie Hurley, wearing her trademark black beads, holding an African cane and smoking a cigarette. | Photo courtesy of Hurley’s family

“I’ve always been interested in the First Nation’s Culture,” he says.

In 2010, Nancy Kirkpatrick, director of the Northern Vancouver Museum, suggested Eric Jamieson write about Maisie Hurley’s story, suggesting that it would make an interesting subject for a book.

Jamieson discovered that Maisie Hurley lived what he believed to be a remarkable life, but she didn’t keep any diaries. He decided to change the angle of Maisie’s story to reflect her writing in the native voice newspaper, the official organ, of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia.

Jamieson talked to Bill Duncan, the business agent for the Brotherhood, who supplied him with half of the copies of the Native Voice Newspaper from 1946 to 1967. He obtained the other half of the copies from the Vancouver Public Library. After reading every single issue of the newspaper, Jamieson determined that The Native Voice was Maisie Hurley’s political diary.

“It was a story of her triumphs, her progress for Native justice, her search for meaning,” says Jamieson. “It was a political paper.”

The Native Voice and Hurley’s other achievements

In 1944, Maisie Hurley encountered her old friend, Haida Elder Alfred Adams. He was dying from cancer and asked Maisie to inform the white people about the Natives. Maisie believed that the native’s voice was in the wilderness and it wasn’t being heard. She launched The Native Voice, one of Hurley’s biggest achievements, in December 1946.

“The paper was instrumental in teaching white people about First Nations,” says Jamieson. “It brought two cultures together.”

Eric Jamieson holding his book: The Native Voice: The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada’s First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation. | Photo courtesy of Joan Jamieson

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, founding member of Reconciliation Canada, believes that Native Voice was an early advocate for housing, land rights, provincial voting, higher education, active tuberculosis hospitals and native fishermen.

“For that time the paper was very effective to our mainstream,” he says. “It was the first to be vocal about the residential schools before issues became widely known.”

Maisie Hurley defended 80 cases without a law degree in front of a magistrate and never lost a case. She played a role in encouraging and advocating for modifying the Indian Act and the Native’s right to vote provincially and federally. Hurley brought awareness to the McKenna-McBride Commission’s significant impact on the Indian peoples’ reserve lands. She was strong enough to talk to politicians such as John Diefenbaker.

“She was an amazing teacher,” says Jamieson. “Maisie was unconventional, stubborn and interesting.”

During the course of his research, Jamieson learnt about tolerance, respect and never giving up on a dream. He also encountered Peter Kelly, Alfred Adams, Chief Williams Scow, Justice Alfred Scow, Andy Paull and Guy Williams.

“These guys are amazing people,” says Jamieson. “Our leaders didn’t have to struggle against oppression.”