134 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 80 PART 1 JANUARY 2022
smallpox. The disease spread among the population of Victoria, claiming
many victims. These were all treated by the resident medical profession,
though a number died. The white men wanted the Haida gone. Wonnegon
insisted that the Douglas government deliberately infected some of the
Hudson’s Bay blankets with the virus and traded them to the Haida. Many
fell ill, some died at Ogden Point. Deciding to go home as fast as possible,
they bundled all their trade goods into their war canoes and paddled off up
north. Many died on the way, but of course those who made it home
brought the smallpox with them, infecting their family members who had
stayed behind. It devastated the population of the islands. In truth, the
Haida came close to being wiped out completely, as had been the fate of the
Beothuk in Newfoundland, though they had been hunted for sport by a
vicious white soldiery.
I asked Wonnegon whether he was sure the Douglas government had
committed delibersate genocide. Wonnegon was adamant. “It was definitely
deliberate,” he insisted. “They wanted to be rid of us, so they infected the
blankets and traded them to us. Sending us off to die.”
I took this subject up with Connie Webb when we went to visit her in Port
Clements a few days later. Her view was somewhat modified. I did not get
the impression that she shared Wonnegon’s certainty about the deliberate
quality of the Victoria government’s actions. She conceded that nobody
could now show that a deliberate policy of genocide was, in fact, the case.
But she allowed that many Haida certainly shared Wonnegon’s opinion.
This, she asserted, was the reputation the Douglas administration had
earned among her people. To this day, she told us, a significant number of
Haida still harboured a deep resentment at the harm the government had
wrought on her people, a resentment that had lasted for over a century.