Pacific Postcards

Switching the "Barbaric" Natives Narrative (S.W.)

For the final research essay, the chosen primary source is a translated journal entry by Spaniard voyager, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, who describes his encounters with Natives during his journeys into the Pacific. This source takes place in 1792 where Bodega y Quadra was given orders by the Spanish government to continue exploration at Nootka Sound which is North of Washington. Bodega y Quadra was a naval officer and explorer who became the first documented Non-Native to land on Nootka Sound in 1775 which was three years before Captain James Cook’s exploration to that same region. From this primary source, one can picture the surroundings of Nootka Sound and read about Bodega y Quadra’s first-hand encounters with Natives in the Pacific. The journal entry provides readers with a different perspective on Natives that counters the stereotypical narrative of Natives demonstrating “barbaric” and “uncivilized” behavior that is commonly discussed throughout history. More specifically, Bodega y Quadra’s encounters with Natives in the Pacific will illustrate a different perspective of Natives that scholar, Joshua Reid, neglects to include in his work which would have refined and strengthened his overall argument that the common narrative of Natives being “barbaric” is not always true.

Bodega y Quadra’s journal entry, which is translated by Katrina H. Moore, signifies a new outlook on Natives in the Pacific that has lacked acknowledgment in common history. When readers are educated on European encounters with Natives, typically they are painted as “dangerous” and “brutal” people who lack common knowledge and act “savagely” towards non-Natives. In class discussions, we have discussed European perspectives such as Meares and Cook’s explorations and meetings with Natives in the Pacific. Both captains usually describe Natives in negative connotations and do not see them as equals to themselves. However, Reid uses these encounters to present the same argument as I in that the common narrative of “savagery” among Natives is somewhat false. Therefore, that opens curiosity as to why Reid only focused on British encounters and perspectives when many Spaniards thought differently of the Natives and why would he choose to not include different European primary sources that would have strengthened his overall argument?

Spaniard voyager and naval officer, Bodega y Quadra, was born in Lima, Peru where he climbed the ranks and was promoted to captain in 1786. He played a significant role in expanding Spain’s power to the Pacific Northwest as he traveled to various regions such as Nootka Sound, Prince William Sound, and Vancouver Island. Bodega y Quadra’s hospitality led him to resolve the Nootka Crisis in 1791 and was appointed commander to negotiate with the Nootka in establishing the implementation of the Second Nootka Convention. Furthermore, his experience in the Pacific allowed him to draw the first reasonably accurate map of North America’s west coast. From his numerous travels to the Pacific, Bodega y Quadra’s journeys have built his credibility of being an experienced voyager into this oceanic region and therefore, makes his documented journal accounts on his encounters with Natives a valid and reliable source. Through using this credible source, I hope to change the misconception of perceiving Natives as “barbaric” and demonstrate a new perspective that Reid does not pay enough attention to in his argument.

In Joshua Reid’s book, The Sea is My Country, he argues that Natives are civilized and respectable people that are painted as “savages” due to biased assumptions and narratives from British captains. He begins chapter 2 with Captain Meares’ experience with the Makahs on their territory. The British had ambitions of exploring the Strait of Juan de Fuca and whether or not it was the Northwest passage. Meares deployed a longboat to further their explorations and after four days, the longboat settled in San Juan Harbor’s cove on Vancouver Island where it was attacked by forty to fifty warriors and met with a lot of violence as the survivors “fought for their lives” (Reid, 54). From this encounter, Europeans named this region “Hostility Bay” because they believed nothing wrong was being done to provoke such a violent attack. Such encounters, like the one previously mentioned, shaped a common perspective many non-Natives had on Natives in the Pacific. A growing narrative of the “inherent savageness of some indigenous peoples” was presented among the colonial world and Meares even asserts that the Natives exemplified people who “lacked [civilization] and noble qualities” (Reid, 55). However, Reid combats this example of “indigenous brutality” with supporting commentary that emphasized the importance of oceanic space to Natives. Reid claims that “violence was not anomalous or the result of miscommunications” but rather employed to “foil imperial designs for domination of tribal marine space” (Reid, 56). In Meares’ encounter with the Natives, one can understand from a Native’s perspective how a European ship on a tribe’s oceanic territory can be deemed as a threat especially after being educated on the importance of an indigenous tribe’s oceanic region. Oceanic space and land were highly significant to the Natives as the ocean was not simply just “space,” but was a form of their culture and identity. Furthermore, the Natives were not wrong in believing that the European’s motives and pursuits for being on indigenous territory were because of British ambitions for control and power over this area.

Reid utilizes these arguments to provide reasoning behind his argument that the Natives were not “savages” but instead only resulted to violence to protect their land and culture. This other perspective Reid presents about Indigenous space does support the same argument I am presenting about opposing the common belief that Natives are “inherently savage” and although Reid presents his readers with strong commentary to prove his point, he lacks primary and concrete sources that would enhance his overall argument. His neglect to address different non-Native perspectives on Natives in the Pacific stunts his argument from reaching its full potential. Therefore, is Reid’s current argument strong enough to refute Meares’ assertion considering Meares is speaking from first-hand experience while Reid speaks with valid reasoning and a lack of a primary source? Thus, I propose including the weight of a credible Spaniard’s, first-hand perspective on his interactions with the Natives which would reinforce the overall argument of disproving the “barbaric” Natives narrative.

By including a Spaniard’s perspective on Natives in the Pacific, Reid would have been able to fully support his argument of breaking the stereotypical “barbaric natives” perspective with concrete evidence. In Bodega y Quadra’s journaled encounters with the Natives, he presents a whole other perspective on Natives that goes against Meares’ perspective and supports Reid’s argument. The Spaniard captain first introduces Natives as “the most affable disposition, and least desirous of revenge” (Bodega y Quadra, P1). He includes how he has “never [feared] one of [the Natives]” (Bodega y Quadra, P1) which directly argues against many British perspectives who envisioned this Pacific area as a “geography of fear” from Reid’s book (Reid, 56). Furthermore, Reid could have used Bodega y Quadra’s trading experience with the Natives at Nootka Sound to back up his assertion that violence occurred “when settlers failed to accommodate Native demands” in terms of trade (Reid, 56). During trade with Nootka Sound Natives, they presented Bodega y Quadra with “fine otter skin” as well as “shells and muskets” while the Spaniard captain traded back “a cost of mail, made of tin plate” and “distributed trifles that [pleased] them most” (Bodega y Quadra, P1). This example of a fair exchange between Natives and non-Natives demonstrates how peaceful and friendly Natives can be when treated with the same respect. Bodega y Quadra even claims that he constantly treats the chief “as a friend” and “[treats] these Indians as men should be treated and not as though they were individuals of inferior stock” (Bodega y Quadra, P2). Through the primary source, readers are educated on a different perspective of Natives that aren’t typically shown. The stark contrast of how Meares views Natives is completely different from how Bodega y Quadra illustrates them in his encounters and demonstrates that Natives are not always “brutal” and “dangerous” as they are painted out to be.

Through understanding the different perspectives both captains took from their Native experiences, readers are educated on the perceptions different non-Natives had on the Natives and how these perceptions could create either a hostile or peaceful relationship. From Meares’ encounter in Reid’s work, the audience is aware of Meares’ motives which were wanting to have control over Native territory and approaching the Natives with the belief that Europeans were more superior over indigenous tribes. This intention is what causes Natives to resort to more “violent” methods because of the threat they feel upon British captains’ arrivals in their oceanic space. Moreover, one can see a drastic difference between Meares and Bodega y Quadra when he approaches the Natives with the understanding of treating them as equals. When Bodega y Quadra treated the Natives with equal respect, this granted him kinship with the Natives in the Pacific and led him to form relationships with Native chiefs. These two contrasts in encounters demonstrate how different motives and perceptions affect Native behavior and that there is an inconsistency of different perspectives present among non-Natives. Therefore, Reid’s lack of attention in providing concrete evidence to support his perspective inhibits his argument from reaching its full capability. Through including primary sources that support his argument, he’s able to demonstrate that discrepancies occurred when it came to Native interactions and this conveys that not all Natives are “inherent savages” as most people assume them to be.

Although I agree with Reid’s argument, I believe he does not pay enough attention to different non-Native perspectives, specifically the Spaniards, which would have provided his argument with credible, primary sources that would have complemented his assertion of not illustrating the Natives as “barbaric” individuals. Reid makes many convincing supporting arguments to demonstrate that Natives are not inherently “savages” but rather are seen in this way due to the misconception Europeans had created from their violent experiences. However, his neglect in including concrete evidence, like not providing perspectives such as Bodega y Quadra and other Spaniard’s, makes his argument not powerful enough; especially when he provides concrete evidence for the opposing argument. Therefore, to make his argument well-rounded, Reid should have brought in other additional sources of non-Native perspectives that would have supported his overall argument that the common “barbaric” Native narrative is false. This would draw more focus upon his claims which would allow viewers to agree and understand his perspective that many other non-Natives carried as well. By including this particular factor of a primary source that supported Natives as being tranquil individuals, Reid could have further enhanced his argument and convey to readers that Natives are not “barbaric savages,” but are just like other individuals who will protect their own tribe and identity when necessary.


Works Cited
Moore, Katrina H. Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, 1974,
Pendergast, Denton. “Juan Francisco Quadra.” Victoria Harbour History, 12 July 2018,

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