The Pentlatch People

In 1923 the name of Village Point on the west side of Denman Island was changed officially to Denman Point. The first name had been in place since the Royal Navy put it on their chart in 1862. At the time of the Navy’s survey a substantial village of the Pentlatch people occupied the point. An early white visitor, Pidcock, described it as it was in 1862, just after it had been depopulated as a result of the smallpox epidemic that swept up the coast from Victoria that year. Robert Brown of the Vancouver Island Exploring expedition also described the village when he camped there in 1864. In her classic account of the pioneer settlers of Denman Island, My Ain Folk (1976), Winnifred Isbister wrote that Denman Island was used as a ‘summer home’ by the Indians who came to the Island on ‘hunting trips’. She nowhere acknowledges the permanent nature of their settlement that was recorded by the first white visitors. This oversight could simply be attributed to the lack of availability, thirty years ago, of the early European accounts, but it does reflect the attitudes of the time towards the First Nations. It is also consistent with the experience of the settlers who first arrived on the Island in the 1870s when the nearest settlement of First Nations people was at Comox, where the remnant of the Pentlatch people from Denman had retreated in 1862. It has been convenient for our western civilization to believe that the first people whom we have displaced didn’t really occupy this land, but were somehow merely ‘summer visitors’.

Paper presented to the conference: Islands of British Columbia 2004: An Interdisciplinary Exploration held August 20, 21 & 22, 2004 on Denman Island. Published in :Proceedings of the Islands of British Columbia Conference 2004 – Graham Brazier and Nick Doe, editors; Arts Denman 2005.