Dominic Charlie

CVA 480-572 – Dominic Charlie. Nov 27, 1912.

I didn’t know who Dominic Charlie was when I came across these photos of him in the “incarcerated persons” section of CVA’s files. Here, he was a man in his mid-20s who had been nabbed by the local constabulary.

He had a couple of booze-related charges in the early years of the 20th century. The first charge was in 1905, when he was fined $25 for possessing whisky (a much higher fine than that for actually drinking the stuff) (World, March 7, 1905). [1] He was charged again in 1910, when he was arrested for drunkenness, but he turned this to his advantage by pointing the finger of blame toward a Chinese gent by the name of Wing Sing who he said supplied him with Scotch. Sing earned three months hard labor on the charge of “supplying liquor to an aborigine.” Charlie got his freedom on a suspended sentence for pointing out Mr. Sing to police (Province, January 17 1910).

It isn’t clear on what charge Charlie was arrested in 1912. But after his 1912 arrest, it seems that Charlie was no longer subjected to liquor-related charges. By the 1920s, he was charged again. But this time, the charge became a test case of the Indian Act. Charlie was charged with spearing salmon in the Capilano River which passed through the land of the Squamish nation, of which Charlie was a member. It was Charlie’s position that the Indian Act superseded the authority of the Fisheries Department in North Vancouver, which claimed that native peoples didn’t have the right to spear salmon out of local waters, whether or not those waters ran through reserves. Charlie was ultimately found guilty of the charge on appeal, but the penalty was just $1.

Dominic Charlie in his native “Santa” outfit. Sun. 8 December 1948.

By December 1948, Charlie had transformed himself into the “first Indian Santa”, impersonating the elderly elf not by putting on a red suit and beard, but instead by donning a traditional headdress and jacket for the St. Paul’s Indian Christmas party (Sun. 8 December 1948).

By ca1952, Charlie was in his 60s and had become a chief of the Squamish people. Legal challenges were in his past, and he seemed content to be involved in native ceremonial events and to do the occasional (and, reportedly, pretty accurate) weather forecast using traditional methods. He worked at sawmills in the area until he turned 73.

There is a “Legend of the Sea Serpent of Burrard Inlet” as told by Charlie (along with other legends by others) here. Charlie was also a gifted artist who sculpted a 7-foot serpent that stood in West Vancouver on Marine Drive for many years.

When he was well into his 80s, Charlie began going to night school to gain some English reading and writing ability.

Charlie was born on Jericho Beach sometime in the 1880s. He died in 1972.

Notes

  1. This seems to be an instance of treating native people as though all are susceptible to the charms of alcohol (which is, of course, absurd). A related policy seems to have been the Indian List, which is described in Barry Mayhew’s article “Are You On the Indian List?”, British Columbia History, Vol 41, No.2 (1988). p.9+

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