Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Great Darkening

Did Governor James Douglas conduct a “War” of Extermination to seize control of the Pacific Shelf from its First Nations? 
A great documentary must accomplish several things. It should teach us something about ourselves. It must entertain. And, if we are lucky, it will uncover a story so groundbreaking and important that it motivates change. There is currently a documentary project underway in Canada that promises to satisfy all these things: The Great Darkening

On Canada’s Pacific Coast, what is now the Province of British Columbia, natives of that time “universally believed” Governor Douglas used smallpox as a weapon to kill them in lieu of treaties or paying for land. Yet Canadian historians so far have routinely dismissed this allegation without mention. If it succeeds, The Great Darkening will make this denial no longer acceptable. 

In Canada’s greatest ever human catastrophe, perhaps 100,000 B.C. natives died from smallpox during 1862/63. Before then, the First Nations were still sovereign in their territories. Afterward, British Columbia subjugated and dispossessed the depopulated First Nations through small wars billed as policing and by hanging several natives resisting the imposition of what they consider a para-military occupation.

The Great Darkening is a detective story. It begins with the last action of the smallpox period. In 1864, British Columbia ambushed five Tsilhqot’in Chiefs at a peace conference. Then it put them through show trials and hung them over a mass grave of smallpox victims. The story then follows the smallpox trail back though the Tsilhqot’in War, seeking its origin. It describes the smallpox carnage everywhere, all the while seeking evidence of deliberate disease spreading.

As it turns out, this evidence is massive. It begins with the accounts of survivors and eye-witnesses as handed down in the native tradition. It includes descriptions by participants and the record of their activities. Tactics used to spread the disease included the distribution of smallpox-infected blankets, sending smallpox infected individuals into native communities or otherwise bringing diseased people in contact with healthy natives and doctors, under the cover of offering vaccination programs, inoculating individuals with smallpox to begin new epidemics. In targeted communities, the death rate was often higher than 90 percent. 

As in the propaganda produced by official historians in the Soviet Union with respect to the Ukrainian Holodomor, or Turkish historians with respect to the Armenian genocide, senior Canadian historians have always denied native allegations of genocide by citing only a lack of confessions or plans in the official records. They by-pass without mention the evidence of missing records in the official files, false information placed in the records and the use of newspapers to print cover stories. 

As The Great Darkening follows the evidence along the smallpox trial, it winds closer and closer to the Governor’s office.  Does it get there? The documentary will introduce the full array of evidence that this catastrophe was, in fact, a government orchestrated genocide, just as the elders have always alleged. 

The Great Darkening is being produced and directed by Vancouver-based filmmaker Shawn Swanky. One of the challenges this project must overcome is the lack of period visual material. There are only a few period photographs to work with. This will put a heavy onus on creating accurate visuals and a captivating narrative. 

The project is still in the fundraising stage, it is not yet possible to estimate a completion date. However, anyone can follow its progress at or The Great Darkening page on Facebook.  The book on which the documentary is based, The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific, is also now available for purchase on

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