References to the proud Iroquois race tend to make one think of Quebec or the Caughnawaga region south of the St. Lawrence River.
It comes as a surprise to some that an Iroquois connection exists right here in the Sooke and Otter districts.
Louis Lazzar, who became chief of the T’Sou-ke, was one of several Lazzar family members who, in the company of others of Iroquois descent, came as far west as Sooke.
As such, it’s a historical fact that the descendants of the Lazzar or Poirier families carry a bit of that special Iroquois blood. Those two families are particularly noted on Vancouver Island for being great outdoorsmen and women.
A documentary style book has recently been written by Jean Barman, an associate professor at UBC, in which he details the journeys of Iroquois voyageurs in the 1800s fur trade.
Travelling west to the Red River, on to the Athabasca and down to the Columbia, these hardy men sometimes settled in at Fort Vancouver or in the Willamette River valley of Oregon, rather than returning east to their place of birth. Typically these men, frequently of Iroquois and French Canadian parentage, would establish a relationship with a local woman who might be Kalapuya, Nez Perce, Salish, or members of any of a group of other tribes.
After 1846, when the Oregon Treaty determined Canada/US boundary, some of the menfolk who had originated north of the border in Quebec and decided to stay out west but were residing on the American side of the new border decided to remain under the Crown. These men emigrated northward with their families, rather than live in a republic.
Those men mainly settled in Fort Langley, Victoria or Sooke.
In addition to the Lazzars, Jean Baptiste Brulé came to Sooke as well, settling on the west bank of the Sooke River, with his wife and Iroquois stepson.
Daughter Ellen, born to the Brule stepson and his wife Mary Ann, grew up to marry French Canadian voyageur Joseph Poirier, and it is through her Iroquois heritage that future Poirier descendants shared in the notable Iroquois genes.
Chief Louis Lazzar, pictured, was adopted as a boy by Chief Jack (Kwaq a Yuk) of the T’Sou-kes, who invited him to marry his niece, and inherit the title of hereditary chief. When Chief Louis passed away in 1925, he was succeeded by his eldest son who became Chief Andrew Lazzar. Many within the T’Sou-ke community are descended from this line, including current elected Chief Gordon Planes and Councillors Allan Planes and Rose Dumont.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum