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HLAKAY (meaning “full grown or hardened antlers”; also known as Pierre, Pierre Michel, Pierre Nequalla), Okanagan chief; son of Michel; m. Susan of the Penticton band, and they apparently had no children; fl. 1906–16.

Born about 1835 in Spallumcheen (B.C.) or Nkama’peleks at the head of Okanagan Lake, Hlakay, or Pierre as he was generally known, was a descendant of the Okanagan chief Nicola [Hwistesmetxŵ’qen**]. His significance dates from after the turn of the century, when politics on the Okanagan reserve were degenerating into chaos.

Appointed chief of the Nkama’peleks or Head of the Lake band in September 1907, Pierre lost the position in December 1908 after a disagreement with Indian agent Archibald Irwin over the irregular sale of part of the reserve on Long (Kalamalka) Lake, east of Okanagan Lake. Although he may have initially promoted the idea, Pierre refused Irwin’s demand for his concurrence, writing (through a translator) that “most of the people are against the selling of that land.” He also challenged Irwin’s authority to dismiss him, especially since his interim replacement, Isaac Harris, was not a band member under the Indian Act and because Harris’s actions were “inimical to the interests of the band.”

Chief Pierre and others hired a lawyer to represent them and report on the behaviour of Irwin and Harris. The resulting series of letters to the Department of Indian Affairs led to a new election, in March 1909. Baptiste Logan became chief, but in April 1910 Pierre and 15 others protested his continuance, charging him with intemperance. Indian Affairs inspector Thomas J. Cummiskey investigated and, advised by two hereditary chiefs, Johnnie Chilleheetsa of Douglas Lake and Louis Clexlixqen of Kamloops, he had Logan deposed. Irwin too was dismissed, in 1911. Concerned about the legitimation of chiefs, Chilleheetsa intervened in the ensuing selection of a new chief, claiming that only descendants of Nicola were eligible. A highly public affair, the election of 27 June 1912 was attended by hereditary chiefs, Oblate missionary Jean-Marie-Raphaël Le Jeune*, and Indian Affairs representatives in a deliberate attempt to buttress the authority of Pierre, who was elected for an indefinite term.

A council with civil, judicial, and police powers was a feature of Okanagan life under Oblate influence. Suspended, probably after the Chirouse scandal of 1892 [see Paul Durieu*], it was now reinstituted by Indian Affairs, supposedly to counteract alcohol abuse on Head of the Lake Reserve. Chief Pierre and the council were reportedly “a power for good” in this respect and in promoting agricultural development after years of decline in ranching and wheat farming [see Cornelius O’Keefe]. During his second tenure Chief Pierre had opportunities to speak out on the most important issue facing British Columbia’s Indians – aboriginal title and rights. In testimony on 4 Oct. 1913 before the royal commission on Indian affairs for the province of British Columbia [see James Andrew Joseph McKenna], Chief Pierre demanded that his reserve remain undiminished in size. At the same time he refused to concede title: “I know myself our blood [was] spilt here first, and we are the right[ful] owners of the land.” Arguing too that his people retained aboriginal rights to hunt and fish, he complained strongly about restrictive game and fishing laws. He also represented his band at meetings of interior tribes who were attempting to have the issue of title considered by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

During and after Pierre’s second term, the Nkama’peleks band continued to be torn by factionalism, and his leadership was repeatedly challenged. Chief “Lame Pierre” – he reputedly had a withered leg as a result of a sports injury – was attacked by Baptiste Logan and others in 1913 for being a “tool” of Indian Affairs and for agreeing, without band consent, to the use of reserve land for an encampment of soldiers of the British Columbia Horse. Pierre resigned as chief, probably in 1915; the circumstances are unknown, but his age may have been a factor. Even then the criticism did not cease. In 1916 a band group claimed that he had been elected illegally in 1912 and publicly accused him of drunkenness, implication in the sale at Long Lake Reserve, misappropriation of resources, and dependence on “half breeds” who were not legitimate band members Pierre died about 1918 at Nkama’peleks. He had been a traditional chief who, in his two tenures, was beset by the arbitrary exercise of power by representatives of the Department of Indian Affairs and by factionalism and disorder on his reserve, much of it the result of the corruption of local officials. He cooperated with other interior chiefs who attempted to keep their reserves intact, protect their aboriginal rights to hunt and fish, and assert their rights to aboriginal title.

Duane Thomson

NA, RG 10, 3944, file 1211698-54; 3945, file 1211698-64. Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (Vancouver), “Evidence submitted to the royal commission on Indian affairs for the province of British Columbia” (typescript, [1913–16]; photocopy in Okanagan Univ. College Library, Kelowna, B.C.), Okanagan, 4 Oct. 1913. Can., House of Commons, Debates, 14 June 1917: 2340–44. Peter Carstens, The queen’s people: a study of hegemony, coercion, and accommodation among the Okanagan of Canada (Toronto, 1991). J. H. Christie, Correspondence between JHChristie, Armstrong, B.C., and Department of Indian Affairs, Ottawa, in past twelve months (n.p., [1917]; copy in BCARS, Northwest Coll., NWp 970.5, C554c); Indian affairs in British Columbia; a commentary on an order-in-council ([Armstrong], n.d.; NWp 970.5, C554); Okanagon Indians non-registered; the reason why ([Armstrong], n.d.; NWp 970.5, C555). J. M. McC. Clark, [Letter, 1910 Dec. 3, to Hon. Richard McBride, Victoria, B.C.] (broadside, n.p., 1910; copy in BCARS, Northwest Coll., NWp 970.5, C555).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Duane Thomson, “HLAKAY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hlakay_14E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hlakay_14E.html
Author of Article: Duane Thomson
Title of Article: HLAKAY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: September 17, 2014