What part of history is told and what goes untold? This is the theme of the upcoming presentation at the North Vancouver District Library by Mary Tasi and Wade Baker, co-authors of The Hidden Journals.
The talk will highlight their ten-year journey of research on Pacific West Coast history that produced the book and that continues today.
“It was like piecing a puzzle together,” Tasi says, “the information is all there; it’s in restricted rooms in libraries and museums, but it’s not all in one place.”
Unraveling a mystery
Baker first decided to research his ancestor, Third Lieutenant Joseph Baker, as part of his GED project requirements. The lieutenant kept surfacing in his family, but no one seemed to want to explore further. The information he uncovered about Baker’s crucial role as mapmaker on HMS Discovery led him, and also Tasi, to investigate further.
“You could be there for years looking through it,” says Tasi of the far-from-simple research process the pair embarked upon.
Often, archivists told them they had heard of the information they were seeking but didn’t know what had happened to it. When they discovered where it might be, there were access challenges. And even after accessing the relevant archives, finding the particular information was challenging. Tasi remembers holding two antique leather binders in the British Library, filled with random 18th century letters, praying something would fall out.
In spite of the challenges, they persisted.
“We became so involved in what had really happened,” Baker says. “It turned into a mystery that needed to be looked deeply into and we kept on finding more, and just couldn’t let go, because it was too interesting.”
An alternative historical narrative
The two discovered that the information in the archives was very different from accounts in history books. Although Captain Vancouver’s experiences have been documented in the edited version of his journals by his brother John Vancouver, his hand-written journals and the original drawings from the ship remain missing.
But other information was also absent. Materials such as Captain Vancouver’s journals and observations of the day from Captain Cook’s officers detail high-level relations with Indigenous people. These meetings of people of equal status discussing protocols of the day contradict mainstream historical texts, where explorers do not socialize with the natives.
Other things were also left out, says Tasi, who notes the important role Indigenous women played in decision making. The omission of the royal indigenous families from the history books is also a huge gap.
“It’s as if English history didn’t mention the royal families when it’s mainly about them,” Tasi recalls from her British public school education. “Why were these stories left out of the history books after the Indian Act of 1876? It’s very concerning.”
Tasi explains the land agenda behind the lost narratives. Records reveal that King George III instructed captains to form an ‘Office of Humanity’ to ensure the Indigenous people they met were treated as equals. Later exploitation of Indigenous peoples was a violation of this order by lords who were uninterested in sharing the land’s resources. In the early 1900s, bankrupt British and European estate owners needed to obtain land elsewhere and had to go through a pre-emption process to prove land in the colonies was uninhabited. In addition, many people are unaware that the Vatican Doctrine of Discovery laws since 1493 had established political and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians.
In their presentation, Baker and Tasi aim to share the lost narratives with the public, shining a light on important historical knowledge that has been unseen. They hope to inspire others to do their own research about this area, so that the full picture of history can slowly but surely begin to emerge.