Sixteen years ago I arrived as an uninvited guest on Lekwungen territory. Not that I would have used those words at the time. My motivation was not to be a settler on the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt nations but to reunite with my family. After spending the previous ten-plus years as a far flung and somewhat nomadic brood, Charlottetown, Halifax, Montreal, Kingston Jamaica, London UK, Courtenay, Campbell River we would all be together in the same country, same province, same city, Canada, BC, Victoria.

The family home in Victoria was on Trutch Street. It was where my parents and sister’s family lived in upstairs/downstairs suites in a converted heritage home and where we would gather for family occasions. A pull out couch on Trutch was where I spent my first night in Victoria. Fall on Trutch was marked by carved pumpkins and in the spring a ruff of pink cherry blossoms would wrap the street. In the summer roses bloomed in my mother’s garden.

I’m still in the habit of referring to my mother’s house as “Trutch” although now the name sticks in my throat, not as a street lined with heritage homes and cherry trees, but as the name of the notoriously racist Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Joseph Trutch, a man who cut “Indian” reserve lands by ninety-one percent, denied Aboriginal title and compared Canada’s Indigenous populations to dogs.

Trutch casts a long shadow over British Columbia. He is perhaps to thank for the word “unceded” in the term “unceded territory” that is included as a matter of course when settler’s such as myself stand and acknowledge the traditional Indigenous territories where we “live, work and play”. First as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works and then as Lieutenant Governor, Trutch worked to reverse the former Hudson Bay Factor and previous Governor, James Douglas’ policy of recognizing Indigenous land rights. Douglas followed a treaty template first established in New Zealand to justify British acquisition to Maori lands, and gave blankets and the promise of a portion of land safe from the molestation of white settlers in exchange for X’s on a page from the chiefs of fourteen First Nations in and around Southern Vancouver Island. Whether the chiefs believed they were signing away their rights to the land or simply committing to live in peace with the new settlers and renting them land for an annual fee is still contested. What is clear however is that Douglas understood that First Nations had a right to the land and that even British law demanded there be some sort of “legal” acquisition before being settled.

Trutch did away with such niceties. Under his regime First Nations were herded into ever smaller, more marginal tracts of land to allow for European settlement. No compensation was given for the land that was taken, no treaties signed, the land never ceded. Ten acres, the minimum land allocation for an Indigenous family under Douglas, became the maximum allocation under Trutch. Markers that laid out the reserves set up by Douglas in Kamloops, Bonaparte River, the Okanagan, and Fraser Valley were pulled up, reserves relocated to less desirable land and shrunk to about a tenth of their size.1 These policies deviated not only from those of James Douglas but also from those pursued east of the Rockies and in other English colonies where aboriginal title was recognized.