In 1604 the French attempted to establish a settlement on St. Croix Island in what is now the state of Maine. During the winter more than half the settlers died from scurvy.
One of the survivors was a young man called Samuel de Champlain.
The following year the settlement was moved to a more suitable site Champlain had found at Port Royal.
Europeans had tried for decades to settle in northern North America before but the attempts had always floundered because most of the settlers did not live through the winter, even though they had adequate amounts of food.
At the same time, the indigenous peoples living near the attempted settlements generally survived the winters without any apparent difficulty.
Champlain was no fool. He observed that one of the things the indigenous people did to prevent scurvy was to drink spruce tea.
His recommendation that everyone drink spruce tea during the winter met with some resistance. After all, Frenchmen did not drink some native concoction. They were right. Frenchmen didn’t do such a thing. It was the willingness to adapt to changing circumstances and to learn from other cultures that made Champlain and those with him Canadians.
The Walk4Justice that quietly made its way through the North Thompson Valley recently is a good reminder that, even though we owe them a great deal, we non-native Canadians have generally not treated our indigenous neighbors well.
While we like to think that we’ve done better in this regard than the Americans, the truth is we have a long history of discrimination and exploitation – and it continues today.
There are no easy answers, but the first step is to acknowledge that the problem exists.