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Originally published July 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 18, 2005 at 11:01 AM

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Fur trader's descendants apologize to B.C. Indians

Descendants of a fur trader who burned an Indian village and kidnapped the son of a chief more than 200 years ago have apologized for their forefather's actions.

The Associated Press

TOFINO, British Columbia — Descendants of a fur trader who burned an Indian village and kidnapped the son of a chief more than 200 years ago have apologized for their forefather's actions.

William Twombly of Corvallis, Ore., a descendant of Capt. Robert Gray, helped forge a new relationship with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations as the Lady Washington arrived on a sunny Saturday afternoon off MacKenzie Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Carrying Twombly and others in his family from as far as England, Texas and Massachusetts, the replica of Gray's late 18th and early 19th century ship pulled alongside three cedar canoes carrying local chiefs.

"We are sorry for the abduction and insult to your chief and his great family and for the burning of Opitsaht," Twombly said.

"We have heard your words and accept," answered Barney Williams Jr., the band's chief councilor and beach keeper.

"I feel relieved," Twombly said afterward. "It's actually hard to put into words. I feel excited. I feel honored."

Tla-o-qui-aht canoeists led the Lady Washington to the old village site past the current town's harbor, packed with tourists, as a Canadian coast guard vessel fired its water cannons.

In the late 1780s and early 1790s, Gray and Capt. John Kendrick, skipper of the Columbia Rediviva, entered Clayoquot Sound to trade for furs. Unlike Gray, Kendrick generally maintained good relations with the natives.

Some historians believe Gray mistakenly feared an attack when, on his second expedition in 1791-92, he ordered John Boit and other crew members to destroy 200 homes in the deserted village of Opitsaht. Members of the expedition also kidnapped a son of Chief Wickaninnish.

Boit wrote in his journal about six violent encounters.

So important was the apology that the Tla-o-qui-aht used the occasion for a major cultural celebration.

The celebration included five hereditary chiefs and about 100 band members, including traditional dancers, as well as the Twombly, state and national legislators and William Kendrick Strong of Glendale, Ariz., a descendant of Kendrick.

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One by one, each hereditary chief invited members of the Twombly family up to the stage, shook hands and handed out gifts of money. They also presented William Twombly with two hand-carved canoe paddles.

In return, the Twombly family gave the chiefs and other band leaders a cowboy hat, coin collections, knitted clothing and reproductions of 200-year-old prints depicting encounters between Gray and the Tla-o-qui-aht.

"I think it's brought closure to something that's been a part of our history for a long time," Williams said. "I think it went a long way to provide some healing for a lot of people."

Before the band served a feast, Strong took the stage to describe the positive trading relationship his ancestor enjoyed with local Indians.

"Kendrick was a really honorable man, and he was well received by us," Williams said, "and he made it his business to learn the customs and language of our people."

Robert Twombly, William's father, a retired English professor from Austin, Texas, said it was his second reconciliation event. His first, he said, was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

He said he hoped his three grandchildren, who were present, would always remember the event.

"My wish is, at the end of their lifespan, their grandchildren will tell of the same honor and generosity you have shown us," he said.

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