WA State Lt. Gov. wants to make amends for 120-year-old lynching

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Washington's lieutenant governor has been thinking lately about a lynching of a 14-year-old boy 120 years ago in Canada that nearly sparked a cross-border race war.

In 1884, a vigilante mob of more than 100 men from Washington Territory rode into Canada, abducted an Indian boy of the Sto:lo tribe and hanged him from a tree. The boy, Louie Sam, had been accused of killing a shopkeeper in Nooksack, in what is now Whatcom County.

Now, more than a century later, Washington Lt. Gov. Brad Owen says there is convincing evidence the boy had nothing to do with killing and was framed.

Owen plans to ask the Legislature next month to pass a "healing" resolution acknowledging Louie Sam's innocence and decrying the lynching. He also wants to pursue other gestures to make amends with the boy's descendants.

"From everything I've seen, there was a definite injustice done to this young man," Owen told The Seattle Times.

But he does not plan to push for a formal apology from Washington state.

"I find it difficult to go back and apologize for something that happened over 100 years ago when Washington wasn't a state and you don't have all the details," Owen said.

Owen first learned about Louie Sam in September, while attending a Government House reception in Victoria, B.C. Owen's counterpart, British Columbia Lt. Gov. Iona Campagnolo, recounted the lynching in a speech. She said it is a mere footnote of history to some but "is as alive today with the Sto:lo people of the Fraser River as it was when it occurred."

Campagnolo asked Owen to join her in urging both the B.C. and Washington state governments to apologize to the Sto:lo. Owen responded by letter to say his office would look into the matter.

Owen's staff has enlisted two historians, one of them Keith Thor Carlson from the University of Saskatchewan, to help with wording a proposed legislative resolution.

Carlson, a former historian for the Sto:lo Nation, has researched the Louie Sam case for more than a decade and is writing a book about the saga. Using government archives, Carlson has reconstructed in remarkable detail the events leading up to the lynching and the futile efforts by British Columbia to bring the mob leaders to justice.

Carlson's research has been made into a documentary, "The Lynching of Louie Sam," that is making the film-festival circuit.

Carlson said he thinks both governments share in the blame for not clearing Louie Sam's name and pursuing his killers. Lt. Gov. Owen agrees.

"The politics of the day was just more powerful than this incredible injustice," Owen said. "They didn't put a value on this young life."

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ray paune - 1/7/2006

If it was one of my ancestors...I would get over it and make my own way in the world and not depend on someone else to provide for me. Too many females make noise when it is not needed and only causes killers to go free and rapists to rape again. Justice should be firm and swift. Not the mushy justice of today.

Lorraine Paul - 1/7/2006

There cannot be a price put on justice!

Connie Finnegan - 1/3/2006

I'm sure if it was one of your ancestors you would be feeling the same way. It was a tragic thing that happened and deserves an apology.

ray paune - 1/1/2006

why go into rhetoric about something that happened 120 years ago! This politician should be voted out of office for not thinking clearly and wasting the taxpayers monies.