Author: Dick Holland
Editors: Ruth Sandwell, Dick Holland
Series Editor: Roland Case
A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-16
In the spring of 1864 a series of killings sent a chill across Canada. The blood of 14 men, spilled into the Homathco River before dawn on the morning of April 29th, 1864, was only the beginning of this conflict. By the end of May, 19 road-builders, packers, and a farmer were dead. Within six weeks an army of over 100 men had arrived in the area to catch the killers.
The killings took place in a remote triangle in central British Columbia that, at the time, was inaccessible by road or even horse trail. The dead men had all been part of the teams trying to build a road from the Pacific coast to the recently discovered goldfields of the Cariboo.
This area was traditional territory of the Tsilhqot’in people who had lived on the high Chilcotin Plateau for centuries, perhaps for thousands of years. The survivors of the attacks identified the principal leader of the more than 20 people involved in the killings as a Tsilhqot’in chief, who was called “Klatsassin” by his people.
Much of what we know of these events depends upon what was reported by the newspapers of the day. Did they give a fair account of what is sometimes called the Chilcotin War? Were the newspapers biased? You are invited to study the evidence and reach your own conclusions.
This MysteryQuest invites you to assess the degree to which the newspapers in 1864 fairly reported this violent conflict between whites and First Nations peoples — the bloodiest single such incident to take place on Canadian soil.
Prior to examining documents related to the Chilcotin War, you will consider the relationship between the concepts of “bias” and “perspective.” Each of us brings a particular perspective to an issue; the challenge facing historians and journalists is to report on events from a perspective that is unbiased or impartial. You will examine several historical newspaper reports of the Chilcotin War and decide on the degree to which these accounts were biased. Finally, you will prepare your own impartial account of the event intended for use by students your age who are studying European-First Nations contact.
Step 1: Reflect on bias and perspective
Before we can decide whether or not a newspaper account is unbiased, we must be clear about the difference between the concepts of “bias” and “perspective.” Many people use these terms interchangeably, creating the impression that everyone is biased simply because each of us has our own perspective or view on the world. This may be an overly simplistic and misleading assumption. If all people are necessarily biased, does this mean that no one is able to examine issues fairly and draw warranted conclusions in light of the available evidence?
If we look carefully at the meaning of these terms, we can better understand how some perspectives may be biased and others may not be. A perspective is a viewpoint from which a person sees an event. A perspective is biased if it unfairly prejudices the result in favour of one person or group. The opposite of bias is impartial. An impartial perspective indicates that the person has attempted to remove any prejudice in favour of or against one person or group by ensuring that all sides are fully represented and respected. Because it is difficult to be completely impartial, it makes more sense to talk about the degree to which a person’s perspective is biased or impartial. The following factors are helpful when making this assessment:
A perspective is impartial to the extent that the person is
A perspective is biased to the extent that the person is
Read the three fictional newspaper accounts of a high school hockey game found in Exploring Media Bias. In each case, look for indications of author bias or impartiality. If you have trouble determining which of the three accounts is the most impartial, go to Distinguishing Biased and Impartial Perspectives to learn more about these concepts.
STEP 2: Learn about the conflict
Before looking at specific newspaper accounts of the Chilcotin War, it will help to learn more of the background to this event. Begin by reading the Welcome page.
Navigate around the site and sample each section. Investigate at least one of each of the following items:
STEP 3: Examine newspaper accounts
Your next task is to decide the degree to which newspaper accounts at the time reflect a biased or impartial account of the Chilcotin War in 1864. Select three historical newspaper accounts from the list found in Evidence in the Case. As you read each document, consider the extent to which three factors are present:
For each article, use a copy of Identifying the Degree of Bias to record clues you find about the author’s impartiality or bias. Assign each factor a score from +4 (highly impartial) to -4 (highly biased). Afterwards, offer your overall assessment of the degree of bias or impartiality of the document.
STEP 4: Write your own impartial account
Armed with your knowledge of the Chilcotin War, write a 500-word account of the event that could be used by fellow students who are studying about European-First Nations contact. Your job is to be as impartial as possible in your reporting. Be sure to provide accurate information and to include the most important facts. You may want to read more of the newspaper reports found in Evidence in the Case. Take care to craft an account that is open to various conclusions, considers the perspectives of various sides of the conflict, and fairly reports the evidence.
The evaluation rubric Assessing the Degree of Bias may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria:
The evaluation rubric Assessing an Impartial Account may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria:
Judge the most reliable newspaper
Examine the newspaper coverage of the Chilcotin War listed in Evidence in the Case to decide which newspaper — the British Colonist, the British Columbian, the Daily Press, or the Daily Chronicle — provided the most impartial coverage.
Sources for the news
Read a selection of the newspaper stories about the Chilcotin War to find out what sources the newspapers were using in writing about the incident. How might these sources have influenced the reporting of the news?
Construct a map
Use the information in the May 12, 1864 issues of the newspapers to construct a map that helps to explain the events.
Compare the Chilcotin oral history of the killing with that of newspaper reports based on a white person’s eye-witness. What differences do you notice in the oral history and the written newspaper reports from the time?
You may also want to read the documents found in The Chilcotin War Today.
Activity Sheet: Exploring Media Bias
Activity Sheet: Identifying the Degree of Bias
Background Information: Distinguishing Biased and Impartial Perspectives