CHESS 2019: Gold Mountain River: Chinese Mining Landscapes in Indigenous Territories

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Host Institution: University of British Columbia

June 5 – June 7, 2019

CHESS is an annual event that brings together graduate students, faculty, and other researchers in the fields of environmental history and historical geography for two and a half days of field trips, workshops, public lectures, and more. This year, CHESS will explore the cultural landscapes of the Fraser River’s nineteenth-century gold fields. In the mid-nineteenth century, the discovery of gold near present-day Lytton unleashed a series of social, economic, and environmental changes that reverberated through the upper canyons of the Fraser. In 1858, more than 20,000 miners traveled up the river, where they staked claims and developed placer mining sites in their search for gold. While most of the miners came from California and eastern North America, many came from China, and their labour, extractive activities, and interactions with Indigenous peoples remain understudied aspects of Canada’s social and environmental history.

To engage with the environmental and historical legacies of the Fraser River Gold Rush, the local organizing committee has scheduled a two-day rafting expedition between Lillooet and Lytton on the Fraser River. During this trip, participants will visit Browning’s Flat and Rip Van Winkle, which represent some of the best-preserved examples of Chinese placer mining activity around the Pacific. At these and other sites, participants will encounter historical traces of the environmental changes people wrought through placer mining, and learn how interactions among Chinese miners and the Nlaka’pamux and St’át’imc peoples shaped social and environmental relations along the Fraser River during and after the 1858 gold rush. To understand how these sites are embedded within broader cultural landscapes, participants will consider the imperial networks and colonial histories that brought thousands of miners to the traditional territories of the Nlaka’pamux and St’át’imc Nations in the mid-nineteenth century.

Organizing committee: Matthew Evenden, Tina Loo, and Jonathan Luedee