The long (far longer than I originally planned) set of posts on this topic was intended to give some background to the current case being considered by the Human Rights Tribunal, brought before them by the New Denver Survivors, representing those who were children taken into care during the Freedomite troubles. The Survivors group has demanded an apology, compensation, and an explanation.
Here is the core of the story presented in the previous four posts: Doukhobor immigrants were invited to Canada, where the holdings that they built up over six or seven years were stolen from them. Some then moved to British Columbia where they ran into nativist locals who persuaded the provincial government to make their lives uncomfortable. The government used the pretense of requiring various official registrations to harass these people. Their leader, Peter the Lordly Verigin, pushed back by turning the schools into a battleground. When the government was uncooperative, children were taken from school. Eventually, the school buildings became arson targets. This phase was interrupted by World War I, when the province and the Doukhobors found cooperation mutually satisfying.
After the War, there was more friction, but it seemed as though the two parties might accommodate one another over time. The schools, however, were the continuing battlefield between the two factions. Verigin was indifferent to education but utilized school attendance as a weapon whenever he was displeased with the provincial government. This period ended with Verigin’s unexplained death in an explosion.
The new leader, Peter Chistiakoff, did not arrive in B.C. until three years later. In the meantime, the leaderless Doukhobors obligated themselves to certain large creditors. Chistiakoff spent years trying to pay off the debt incurred before his arrival. This was complicated by the onset of the Great Depression. Further, Chistiakoff was an erratic leader, a drunkard with a nasty temper who spent three of his ten years in B.C. in jail — a year and a half in a Saskatchewan prison, the rest made up of thirty and ninety day sentences mostly served in Nelson — and was incapacitated with illness in his final year. The property of the Community Doukhobors was seized for non-payment of debts and came into the hands of the provincial government.
The Freedomites, an extreme group of mystic believers, rose to prominence. Both Peter Lordly and Chistiakoff used this faction when they needed it and publicly rejected it when they didn’t. The Freedomites began using dynamite under Chistiakoff’s leadership. His absence during periods of incarceration left the group free to its own devices.
When Chistiakoff died, his successor was in a prison camp in the Soviet Union. The Freedomites therefore rejected the young John J. Verigin who assumed leadership of the moderate Doukhobor factions in B.C. The Freedomites fell under the control of various charlatans and con men, particularly Stefan Sorokin who took up residence in Uruguay. Freedomite actions were met with foolish countermeasures by both federal and provincial authorities, but the initiative fell to the arsonists and bombers who refused attempts at settling the disputes. By now protesting and bombing had become a way of life for many Freedomites, though there was nothing to be gained from such tactics except personal martyrdom.
Mass arrests in the early 1950s were followed by forcible seizing of children who were not in school — these were incarcerated at New Denver. Finally, in 1959, parents gave their promise that the children would attend school and the New Denver children came home. Bombings increased though, and became much worse. Police arrested and incarcerated all of the Freedomite leadership. Demonstrations against their imprisonment, including the Great March, drained energy away from other activities and the Freedomites were essentially broken. Since 1962, B.C. Doukhobors have lived peaceable lives of much the same quality as their non-Doukhobor neighbors.
An apology for some government actions — such as the theft of the Doukhobor settled lands in Saskatchewan – seems so belated that it lacks usefulness. Neither those who committed the deed nor those who suffered are still around. The provincial government has formally tendered its regrets over the New Denver incarceration of children, but not an apology. I suppose the difference is this: regret says we wished it had been done another way, but an apology (such as that given Japanese-Canadians interned during World War II) says we were totally wrong, you were right. But, in fact, it was the Freedomites themselves who made their children pawns in this power game. There are apologies due those taken from their families, but they are due from a number of people, beginning with Peter Lordly, who started this game. Compensation may be awarded by the Tribunal. It isn’t clear to me how much, if anything, should be paid and who it should go to, but I’ll go along with whatever the Tribunal says.
Spelling: I have used various spelling of Doukhobor names that are very variable in practice. “Popoff”, “Popov”, “Poppoff” are all locally used variants of the same family name (though the first seems to have become preferred). Usually I have opted for “-off” rather than “-ov” endings except where it seemed the great weight of common usage was against me. I used the name Anastasia Golubova, because that is the most frequent occurence of that name on the Internet, but Anastasia’s last name is probably more correctly anglicized as Holuboff. I wrote “John Lebedeff” rather than “Lebedov” because that was, if I recall correctly (and I may not,) the spelling he gave to a community television crew who videotaped an interview with him in Wynndel in 1982.
Bread and Salt: Apparently there are states in the U.S. where witnesses in a trial must swear an oath on the Bible. In Canada, witnesses may “solemnly affirm”. “Eat bread and salt and speak the truth” is a Doukhobor saying that encapsulates certain beliefs.
At a 1974 trial that I witnessed, a Doukhobor man accused a woman, a relative by marriage and his next-door neighbor, of attacking him with an iron bar. When the man came to give testimony, he swore on the Bible. The Defense immediately objected on the grounds that the man did not believe in the Bible. Magistrate William Evans waved a hand. “He has taken the oath,” he said. When the man’s wife appeared to testify, she turned her head away from the Bible and Evans quietly asked for bread and salt. A pitcher of water was already present. A wire basket, like those used to hold papers on a desktop, was produced with slices of store-bought white bread and a shaker of salt like that you might find on a diner countertop. This was nothing like the great loaves of Doukhobor bread and the carved wooden salt receptacles that stood on every table, but the woman affirmed on them anyway. In the event, Evans’ decision, when he dismissed the charges, showed that he did not accept the testimony of either witness, though he did not ever mention perjury. I had some dealings with the alleged victim in the case and regarded him as untruthful — certainly he gave no evidence of having been beaten with an iron bar, though I did consider that he might have been slapped or punched. At any rate, I thought Magistrate Evans’ decision was just.
“White People” vs. “English”: As late as the mid-seventies, there was at least one loud-mouthed individual in the Slocan Valley who claimed to belong to the “White People’s Party” which he defined as, “non-Hippie, non-Indian, and non-Doukhobor”. He later was convicted of assault against someone he probably considered a hippy and moved from the area. The usage of the term by 19th and early 20th Century English immigrants to describe Russians does not surprise. Nor should it be surprising that non-Doukhobors are referred to as “English” by these Russians.