Alice White (Nicholas) of the Akisqnuk First Nation thrived during the depression

·3 min read

In June, Canadians celebrate National Indigenous History Month to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada. National Indigenous History Month is a time for learning about, appreciating and acknowledging the contributions First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made in shaping Canada.

For the next month, I’ll be writing a weekly column that focuses on local Indigenous history. This week, I use as source material a story written about Alice White (Nicholas) of the Akisqnuk First Nation. I found the story in The Valley Echo’s 25th Anniversary Special Supplement published in 1980. There is no byline attached to the story.

The editorial in that edition started the following way: “We commenced this Special Edition with the idea we would concentrate on the Depression Era, the 1930’s, feeling that there were many young people in the district today who would like to know what the Valley was like during that period.”

The story begins at the site of the old Dominic Nicholas homestead. In 1980, the only family still residing on the homestead was Jack Stevens and one of Dominic’s daughters, Elizabeth with four of their ten children still at home. Alice White, the eldest Nicholas daughter, at the time still lived nearby.

"Alice, at 73 years of age, fondly remembers the old days on the reserve. During the 1930’s Alice was just coming into her twenties and the depression years were not affecting her people at all. ‘We had everything in those days, we had pack horses, we raised vegetables, we had enough to last all winter with chickens and turkeys. One year, potatoes were so expensive, that we kept losing them out of the root cellar.’”

It was a time when potatoes were selling for $8.00 or $10.00 for a hundred pounds. When Dominic noticed the slow disappearance of the spuds, he promptly got a padlock for the door. “Berries were so plentiful, Alice could just sit in one place and fill her basket.”

During the depression Alice recalled her mother Sophie always telling her that “If you want something, you have to work your hands.” Alice did just that. If she needed money for any purchases, she would saddle up a pack horse and go into the hills to hunt. With the hides, Alice would make work gloves, moccasins and do beadwork, “for which there was always a plentiful market locally.”

Back then, a turning point came with the arrival of the Second World War. “Kootenay men [former title for the Akisqnuk First Nation] were called into service. Alice lost her brother Toby in the fighting overseas and in the article she remarked: ‘What were they doing there? - it wasn’t [our] war.’”

When the automobile arrived in the valley, it wasn't long before Alice’s family had one. “But with Dominic gone most weekends playing baseball, one day Alice’s mother told her she should learn to drive the machine so they all didn’t have to just stay at home.”

James Rose, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer