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Eye On Olympia

126 years too late for Louie Sam, but appreciated nonetheless…

Drum beats and tribal chanting echoed through the capitol rotunda on Wednesday, as members of a Canadian Indian tribe accepted an “expression of regret” from state lawmakers for the mob killing of a 14-year Canadian boy more than a century ago.

In 1884, according to a Senate resolution passed Monday, an angry American mob calling itself the “Nooksack Vigilance Committee” crossed the border into Canada. They were hunting for Louie Sam, a young member of a Canadian tribe known as the Sto:lo Nation. They suspected the boy of slaying a Nooksack shopkeeper.

The boy was in the custody of a Canadian deputy, who the mob apparently overpowered. They seized the boy and hanged him.

After a protest by the Canadian government, U.S. federal officials asked the Washington territorial government to investigate and ascertain who was in that lynch mob. And despite the fact that the mob members “openly bragged” about their participation, territorial officials claimed that they were unable to figure out who’d lynched the boy.

Canadian undercover detectives sent into Washington Territory subsequently determined that Louie Sam hadn’t murdered the shopkeeper. But according to the Senate resolution, the detectives “failed to follow up with the evidence that they had gathered.”

Louie Sam’s friends and neighbors were so afraid of further cross-border attacks that they permanently abandoned their border village, according to the Senate resolution.

The resolution notes that both the territorial and Canadian governments failed to do their jobs and expresses sympathy to the family of Sam.

It’s key, said Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Issaquah, to understand “the importance of being able to let the words `I’m sorry’ roll off your tongue when you are.”

Lieutenant Gov. Brad Owen called the lynching “a terrible injustice.” The resolution, he said, “is meant to further insure that such a tragedy will never be forgotten or repeated.”

Accepting the resolution from Owen was Grand Chief Clarence Pennier (pictured), who is the tribal chief of the Sto:lo Tribal Council.

“I want to lift up my hands to you,” he said, doing so. “It makes our families feel good.”


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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