The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (sqʷχʷúʔməʃ) or Squamish are an indigenous people of southwestern British Columbia, a part of the Salishan-speaking people. They speak the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language, which is a part of the Coast Salish linguistic grouping. When translated, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh renders into the people of the sacred water, referencing what they believe is the water in their territory and its spiritual healing properties. Their traditional territory covers the Indian Arm, along Burrard Inlet, through False Creek then English Bay and Point Grey serving as the southern border. From here, it continued northward to Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, up the Howe Sound. The northern part included the Squamish, Cheakamus, Elaho and Mamquam rivers. Up the Cheakamus River it included land past Whistler, British Columbia. Their people live mostly in seven communities in West Vancouver, North Vancouver, and near the town of Squamish.
Their history, literature, law, and other knowledge were transmitted by oral tradition across generations without a writing system, and today forms the fundamental source for most of their history. Stories of supernatural events, creatures, and people along with stories of ancestors were passed on through oral tradition. This continued until after contact with Europeans in 1791, when drastic changes began to occur for their people and culture. Later much of the remaining oral tradition was collected by anthropologists and ethnographers, but much of the culture is still passed on orally too. Before official contact, in the 1770s, foreign diseases devastated much of the population. For decades following, more diseases, including influenza, reduced the population significantly. This, along with the influx of new foreigners, usurpation of their ancestral lands, and later policies of assimilation by the Canadian government, caused a significant shift in their culture.
Historically they lived in villages in communal houses made out of cedar poles and planks. These longhouses would be home to extended kinship families, with different branches of a family living in different quarters of the house. Permanent homes would be built during the winter months where most life was occupied either in ceremony or living in the house with minimal travel. In the springtime, families would begin work to gather resources and food and start traveling to resource sites to provide food, fiber, and other materials for their families. They would travel by dugout cedar canoes to other locations and live there during the warmer months. Fishing, hunting, trapping, gathering, and berry picking would sustain families as they began to preserve foods for the winter months to come. The summer would also be marked by travel to neighbouring nations to visit relatives and attend large events called potlatchs.
“[A] dreadful misfortune befell them. … One salmon season the fish were found to be covered with running sores and blotches, which rendered them unfit for food. As the people depended very largely upon these salmon for their winter’s food supply, they were obliged to catch and cure them as best they could, and store them away for food. They put off eating them till no other food was available, and then began a terrible time of sickness and distress. A dreadful skin disease, loathsome to look upon, broke out upon all alike. None were spared. Men, women, and children sickened, took the disease and died in agony by hundreds, so that when the spring arrived and fresh food was procurable, there was scarcely a person left of all their numbers to get it. Camp after camp, village after village, was left desolate. The remains of which, said the old man, in answer by my queries on this, are found today in the old camp sites or midden-heaps over which the forest has been growing for so many generations. Little by little the remnant left by the disease grew into a nation again, and when the first white men sailed up the Squamish in their big boats, the tribe was strong and numerous again”The epidemic of the 1770s was the first and the most devastating more to follow. During the next few decades other damaging outbreaks would attack this area. A smallpox epidemic in 1800-1801, influenza in 1836-1837, measles in 1847-1848, smallpox again in 1862.
In 1791, with Spanish Captain Jose Maria Narvaez and British Captain George Vancouver, first contact was made between the Sḵwxwú7mesh and Europeans. European expansion during the fur-trade, gold rush, and subsequent colonization policies by the Canadian government ushered a new way of life and place for the Sḵwxwú7mesh. In the early history of Vancouver, these people were the majority, but in a manner of a few years, they quickly fell to a small minority, both because of more diseases, displacement from land, and rising European and Asian populations.
In the early 1800s, the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Langley was the first major trader. During this time, much trade went on between the people and Fort Langley. In 1858–59 the Fraser Gold Rush brought in more foreign settlers to their territory, but most major settlement did not begin until after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, bringing more foreigners from eastern Canada. During the time of construction of the railway, the treaty process by the Canadian government was attempting to settle land issues across the Prarires, but in 1876 the Indian Act was passed, and in the Joint Indian Reserve Commiision, plots of land or Indian reserves, were cordoned designating the native population to specific areas, managed and control by Indian agents from the Department of Northern and Indian Affairs. At the time, numerous reserves were plotted out from already existing village sites, and then assigned or ratified chiefs over these reserves.
During this time some reserve lands were sold off from the respective families and chiefs, both illegally and legally. One instance was the case of Kitsilano Indian Reserve, the location of which was Senakw, where portions of the reserve were expropriated, both in 1886, and again in 1902. Families were forced into leaving, and promised pay for the "sale". The families that lived in the village were placed on a barge and sent out to sea, with the intent for them to move up to the Squamish River area. It wasn't until 1923 when the reserve chiefs amalgamated into becoming the singular Squamish Band to manage all reserves.
In 1906, a delegation of chiefs from British Columbia, traveled to London to seek an audience with King Edward VII regarding the land confiscated by the government of Canada with the reserve system. Joe Capilano traveled with Cowichan Chief Charley Isipaymilt and Secwepemc Chief Basil David, but their requests to see the King were denied.
Their territory Sḵwxwú7mesh extends over 673,540 hectares. On the southern part, it includes the Indian Arm, along Burrard Inlet, through False Creek then English Bay and Point Grey serving as the border southward. From here, it moved northward to Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, up the Howe Sound. Then the northern part included the Squamish, Cheakamus, Elaho and Mamquam Rivers. Up the Cheakamus River it included land past Whistler, British Columbia.
Sḵwxwú7mesh territory also overlaps with the territories of neighboring indigenous peoples. Their land was situated on shared territory between Xwméthkwyiem, Tseil-waututh, Shishalh, and Lil'wat (main southern branch of the St'at'imc). In their language, the Tseil-waututh are Sel’it’wetulh, the Shishalh are the Shishá7lh, the Xwméthkwyiem are Xwmets'kwiyam, and the Lil'wat are Lúxwels. Roberts Creek, on the Sunshine Coast, is considered the boarder with the Shishalh. They are culturally similar, but politically different from their kin, the Tseil-waututh. A large portion of Sḵwxwú7mesh territory is shared with the Lil'wat. Through family inter-marriage and the land rights that sometimes came with it, many places for resource gathering were shared.
Vancouver and adjacent municipalities are located within their territory, making the Sḵwxwú7mesh one of the few indigenous peoples in Canada to have communities near or in metropolitan area's. Of the 673,540 km, currently 0.4230% of this is reserve land allotted to the Squamish Nation. It is on these reserves that most of the current communities exist.
Pre-contact times they also sometimes had multiple village sites for living. During the winter months, they would travel up river, and in the sumer months, come down for economic resources to be gathered. There were exceptions to this with some villages being occupied throughout the whole year. These camp sites proved valuable for resources, like food or mineral deposits, and multiple families with travel to these places. Other camp sites were safe havens in time of need if weather did not permit travel on the water because of rough waters.
Below is a list of villages, both present and past, their reserve designation, and other information.
|Sḵwxwú7mesh place-name||International Phonetics Alphabet||Translation||Indian Reserve location||Location||English|
|Eslha7an||/əsɬaʔan/||Head-bay||Mission Indian Reserve No.6||North Vancouver||Ustlawn, Eslahan, Uslawn|
|X̱wemelch'stn||/xʷəməltʃ’stn/||Swift rolling water of fish||Capilano Indian Reserve No.5||West Vancouver (near Lions Gate Bridge)||Homulchesan, Whulmechosan|
|Chi'ch'elxwikw'||/tʃiʔtʃ’əlxʷikʷ’/(?)||Village near the narrows||Seymour Creek Indian Reserve No.2||North Vancouver (near Second Narrows Bridge)||(No English name)|
|X̱wáýx̱way||/xʷajxʷaj/||Place of masks||Lumbermans Arch, Stanley Park||Whoi-whoi, Qwhy-qwhy, Kwoi kwoi, Quoiquoi|
|Senakw||/sənakʷ/||Inside village||Kitsilano Indian Reserve No.6||Kitsilano (Near Vanier Park)||Snauq, Snawk|
|Schenks||/stʃənks/||Chekwelp Indian Reserve No.26A||Gibsons, British Columbia||Schenks|
|Chekwelhp||/tʃəkʷəɬp/||Chekwelp Indian Reserve No.26||Gibsons, British Columbia||Chekwelp|
|K'ik'elx̱n||/k’ik’əlxn/||Little fort||Kaikalahun Indian Reserve No.25||Port Mellon I.R. No.24||Kaikalahun|
|Kywetin||/kjwətin/||Kowtain Indian Reserve No.17||Squamish, British Columbia)||Kowtain|
|Yekw'apsem||/jəkʷ’apsəm/||Yekwaupsum Indian Reserve No.18||Yekwaupsum|
|Wiwkem||/wiwkəm/||Waiwakum Indian Reserve No.14||Brackendale, British Columbia (Squamish, British Columbia)||Waiwakum|
|Chiyakmesh||/tʃijakməʃ/||People of the fish weir||Cheakamus Indian Reserve No.11||Brackendale, British Columbia (Squamish, British Columbia)||Cheakamus|
|T'ekw'takwemey||/t’əkʷ’takʷəməj/||Place of thimbleberry bushes||(No English name)|
|Ch'wkech'ekts||/tʃ’wkətʃ’əkts/||(No English name)|
|Puyam||/pujam/||Blackened from smoke||Puyam|
|Tsitsusem||/tsitsusəm/||Potlatch Creek, (Howe Sound)||(No English name)|
|St'a7mes||/staʔməs/||Stawamus Indian Reserve No. 24||Below Stawamus Chief Mountain||Stawamus|
The nobility was recognized by three ways; the amount of wealth distributed amongst the people, how much one or ones family emulates the values of the people, the knowledge through history, traditions, and culture and the sharing of those, and knowledge of skills, whether practical or spiritual.
The distribution of wealth was the most regarded and most practiced by high ranking and wealthy families. This distribution of wealth takes place with the potlatching or through the display of values celebrated in the culture such as generosity, humbleness and respect. Some families come from nobility because of connection to spiritual powers or ceremonialism. Shamans, prophets and medicine doctors were also considered nobility because of the training and expertise they possessed. Some jobs or positions, taken up by members of the community, also signified members of this class. These jobs and positions would be things related to the mountain goat, like hunting and weaving of mountain goat wool blankets. Before contact commoners or slaves could rise through the ranks to one day also become nobility through this system.
In emulating the values of the culture, of respect for each other, wisdom or knowledge to be passed on in teachings, and generosity of ones own wealth. In Western concepts of wealth, the poor are regarded by those who have nothing. Andy Paull noted, "It was the duty of the more responsible Indians to see that the history and traditions of our race were properly handed down to posterity. A knowledge of our history and legends was similar as an education is regarded among whitemen. Those who possessed it were regarded as aristocrats. Those who were indifferent, whether adults or children, were rascals. Being without means of transmitting it into writing, much time was spent by the aristocrats in importing this knowledge to the youth. It was the responsible duty of responsible elders.
A practice historically done by Sḵwxwú7mesh was a custom called flat-foreheading. Infants heads would be placed in a wooden bust model of his head and shoulders to transform the shape of their head into something more "flat". This would a sign of nobility and considered attractive. The last Sḵwxwú7mesh to do this practice was Tim Moody.
Historically, marriage would occur through either arranged marriage, or the groom proposing to the father of the prospecting wife. If a father endorsed the marriage, he would invite the groom into his house after a trial conducted on the young man. Polygamy was also practiced, but only the most wealthy individuals would practice this.
In large longhouses festivities and ceremonies take place. Things such as naming ceremonies, funerals, memorials for the deceased, weddings, and spiritual events, happen in their longhouses. Elaborate events called a "potlatch", a word meaning to give that comes from the Chinook Jargon, is where a host or host family invites guests to participate in societal events. A persons position in the community is based on how much they gave of themselves to their people. As such, potlatches are hosted where gifts and material wealth is shared with the community. Food is prepared and a large feast is given to the community. All the foods ate by their ancestors are considered "traditional foods", and are usually accompanied in the feast celebrating their indigenous culture. It was this event that was banned and made illegal by the Canadian government from 1884 to 1951. During that time, their ceremonies and events went underground, only to be revived years later.
Prior to contact, travel was primarily done by canoe. Large cedar tree's are cut down and carved into a single cedar dug-out canoe.. Families would travel to different villages or nations to visit their relatives, or in the summer months journey to resource rich camping sites to gather food and materials for the colder winter months. In 1992 the construction and revitalization of the canoe culture came back when they construct an ocean-travel canoe. This canoe is measured at 52 feat and was carved from a single cedar tree. Since that time multiple canoes have been carved, either for single family use, or community-wide use.
Since the late 1800s the language has had a history. Before contact, it was the prominent language of all the villages, along with the Chinook Jargon. Most children would learn Chinook as a first language because it was so basic, then Sḵwxwú7mesh language as they become older. After the spread of diseases causing massive population drops and colonizations of their territory, the language became a minority language in their lands. When the Canadian government enforced an assimilationist policies regarding their culture and language, a Residential School were set up in the village of Eslha7an with children coming from many Skwxwu7mesh villages, plus some Church officials sending children to another school in Sechelt. The school, a home for many children 10 months out of the year, were forbade to speak their language. Any children speaking the language were punished and beaten. This cause a deep resentment about speaking the language, and so the next generation grew up without any knowledge of their native-tongue.
Over the years, English became the prominent language. Then during the 1960s, a great deal of documentation and work took place to help in the revitalization. The BC Language Project with Randy Bouchard and Dorthy Kennedy undertook more documentation and were the main collaborators on this project. They devised the present writing system that is used for the Sḵwxwú7mesh language. Eventually local Elementary and a High School included language classes as opposed to the normal French language option. A children's school called Xwemelch'stn Estimxwataxw School, meaning Xwmelch'stn Littleones School, with grades Kindergarten to 3, was built to assist in language immersion, with plans to expand it into a full immersion programed school.
Salmon was caught using a variety of methods, the most common being the fishing weir. These traps allowed skilled hunters to easily spear a good amount of fish with little effort. Fish weirs were regularly used on the Cheakamus River, which takes its name from the village of Chiyakmesh. This translates into People of the Fish Weir, denoting the weir utilized in this area. This method of fishing required extensive cooperation between the men fishing and the women on the shore doing the cleaning.
In the past, salmon would be roasted over fires and eaten fresh, or dried for preservation. Using smoke over alder or hemlock fires preserved salmon so it could be stored for up two years. It could be soaked in water and prepared for eating. Over time, this evolved into a method preserving salmon through canning. Canned salmon are jarred or pickled, then stored for winter months.