Declaration of the Sliammon People
Since the beginning of time, our people have lived on the lands that the Creator provided for our ancestors. We lived by our traditional systems of governance that sustained us and our lands and resources for thousands of years. Our society governed all forms of environmental, social and political relations through a sophisticated system of traditional laws, as is our traditional way.
It is from this proud history that Sliammon derives our inherent right to self-government. With jurisdiction and responsible leadership, we will create economic and employment opportunities to sustain and improve the quality of life for present and future generations.
Sliammon First Nation
Our traditional territory was rich in natural resources. All of our economic and political systems along with our spirituality were based on our relationship with the traditional territory of our ancestors and their unique relationship with the land. Almost everything around us was utilized for tools, clothing, food, shelter, medicine, transportation and trade with other First Nations. To obtain these resources, our ancestors had to occasionally leave their villages. Like other Northern Coast Salish peoples, our Sliammon ancestors followed a yearly cycle of activities focused on acquiring and processing food and materials. People came together at winter village sites during the cold months but scattered to separate sites when the weather warmed, sometimes joining with other Sliammon families, and even members of other tribes, while engaged in specific activities, and then dispersed again to their particular owned sites.
A family’s ability to harvest available resources throughout our Sliammon territory demanded considerable knowledge of the natural landscape and its resources. The availability of plant resources, game and fish varied considerably throughout the territory. Many resources could be harvested only at specific times of the year and only at certain locations. Our ancestors had to be in certain places at the time the berries ripened or the fish swam upstream, or else they might go hungry.
Our ancestors knew their territory, the weather patterns, the seasonal changes, the behavior of the animals and fish, through daily contact with the land. It was the tides and the signs of nature that governed our ancestors’ movements, not the watch or a schedule.
Our Sliammon ancestors traded with neighboring first nations residing on the Lower Mainland, Interior, and Vancouver Island for food and materials not available locally. While most travel by canoe, foot trails followed streams and rivers deep into the forests and over the glacier and mountains. Stories are still told of canoe trips to visit relatives at the mouth of the Fraser River up to Chilliwack or journeys through the mountains to take fish to our kin in the Pemberton Valley.
The Lil’wat – Interior Salish people of the Mount Currie/Pemberton area came overland by means of a trail to the head of Toba Inlet, bringing with them Indian hemp fibers used for twine, as well as deer hides and dried roots. From the Sechelt we received smelt and sturgeon, and from the Nuu-chah-nulth of the west coast of Vancouver Island we received white grass for basketry, a craft in which our women excelled. Our people processed surplus amounts of smoke-dried salmon, herring, inner cedar bark and collected shells for trade with these other First Nations. Some of our ancestors whose parents came from different tribes knew several languages and therefore helped to facilitate this intertribal trade.
In the 1800′s the Chilcoltin people came to trade peacefully for our marine resources. Dried salmon, herring, clams, and seaweed were obtained for the berries, crabapples and dried game such as caribou, marmot and mule deer, that they transported over the trail from Chilco Lake to Bute Inlet. One of the most valued commodities received from the Chilcoltin was obsidian stone from their territory, used to produce very sharp and strong tools, knives and arrowheads.
Our people also had an unspoken communication system that allowed them to leave messages for one another throughout the territory, including mountain trails. Using various materials such as rock and sticks placed in certain positions at strategic locations, they indicated where they were coming from or going, for how long, and for what purpose. Petroglyphs or pictures on the rocks told the people the story of important events or meaning of that particular place
Our ancestors understood that a social relationship exists among all things in the natural world. Therefore, they developed harvesting practices aimed at fostering a good relationship with the natural world, so that they would be rewarded with a plentiful supply of food. Some of the principles that were used in the past could be adapted to our contemporary society, for example leaving the places you visit looking untouched so that the animals will return.
Our elders say that the fish and animals made themselves available to people who treated them properly, but did not give themselves to those who violated certain rules. One of these rules applied to young men learning how to hunt. It was important for a young man not to eat any of the first several deer or salmon he caught. This taught the young man not to be greedy, and is showed that he respected the food he was harvesting. When he killed his first goat or bear, however, there were very special procedures that had to be followed while the young hunter asked the animal to send others to him. One of these was placing the head of the first-killed bear in the fork of a tree, facing east.
In our traditional spiritual beliefs, we acknowledge the existence of special supernatural powers, referred to as guardian spirits. Training for spiritual power was an important aspect of environmental stewardship. We believe that individual can establish contact with the supernatural through rigorous training, resulting in a vision experience. In this vision experience, the person who is training might encounter an animal spirit during a dream or trance. If the spirit speaks to the seeker and offers him a power, and the seeker accepts the power, the spirit will provide a song and dance. People sometimes carved the image of their spirit helper on their tools, but most individuals were reluctant to share too much about their guardian spirit because that is where they get their power.
Our people managed resources by ensuring that spiritual ceremonies were performed, and that the resources were not offended by violation of the correct procedures. Some resources harvested by our people varied in abundance and availability, and thus it required planning and management to increase the productivity of the resource.
Several management strategies were used. Some of the strategies were social, such as controlling access to the resource, organizing and managing the labour force, exchanging food products with other elite individuals, or simply moving to a more productive area in times of resource depletion. Other strategies required technological intervention, including the appropriate operation of fishing gear and management of the resource itself. These latter strategies included selective harvesting (such as not taking the female salmon or eggs during the first half of the run), and opening or removing fish traps for certain hours of the day to allow escapement.
Our creation stories speak of how the Creator put Sliammon people on this land. We have a deep and external connection to it, established at the time of our birth when our umbilical cord is buried into the ground.
This connection is nourished by our teachings, which show how we are bound to the forests and waters of our territory. Our people have depended on this land for their survival since time immemorial. Archaeologists date some of the known archaeological sites to over 4000 years ago. Our use of these places is documented in our oral traditions, including our place names and our legends.
Our teachings tell us about a vast traditional territory that once belonged to Sliammon people. This territory was recognized and acknowledged by other First Nations as well as our own people. This territory of the original Sliammon people extended from the vicinity of Stillwater and part of Texada Island, northward along the Malaspina and Gifford Peninsulas to the southern area of Homfray Channel and part of Cortes Island, including also the smaller off-shore islands such as Hernando, Savary and Harwood as well as Powell, Goat and Haslam Lakes.
Until the mid 1800s our village at Grace Harbour was shared during the winter with some Homalco and Klahoose people. But the influence of the Catholic Church, by about 1870, resulted in some of the Homalco and Klahoose wintering with us at our village in the Sliammon Bay. During the past 50 years many Homalco and Klahoose people have jointed us permanently in our village at Sliammon. At one time, Sliammon people occupied several villages including:
- (Qua-qua-neis) Lang Bay
- (Tees-Kwat) Powell River
- (Ha-kwu-em) Grief Point
- (Te-sho-sum) Sliammon
- (Tle-kwa-nem) Scuttle Bay
- (Tee-till-ka-yis) Southview
- (Kah-kee-ky) Grace Harbour
- (Tow-wha-nech) Okeover Inlet
- (Ch-en) Malaspina Inlet
- (Tow-qwa-nen) Theodosia Inlet
Even though the Royal Proclamation of 1763 declared that only the British Crown could acquire lands from First Nations by means of a treaty, a situation occurred on other parts of Canada, and only a few treaties were signed here in B.C. Nevertheless, since the time B.C. was colonized in the mid 1800s, our leaders have continued petitioning the government to negotiate for the loss of our lands. Through various means, however, many of our village sites were lost to our people, without the benefit of a treaty.
When the Joint Indian Reserve Commissioner visited our area in 1879, only six places were reserved for our use, providing us with a total of 1,907.5 hectares. We estimate that our territory once extended over 3,347 kilometers. Thus, our current reserves is comprised of .06 of this traditional territory, or 19 square kilometers.
|IR#1 – Tees sho sum (Sliammon)||778.8 hectares|
|IR#2 – Ah gyk son (Harwood Island)||847.8 hectares|
|IR#3 – Pah kee ah jim (Cortes Island)||80.9 hectares|
|IR#4 – Toh qwon non (Theodosia Inlet)||160.4 hectares|
|IR#5 – Tox natch (Okeover Inlet)||21.4 hectares|
|IR#6 – Kah kee ky (Grace Harbour)||18.2 hectares|
Sliammon Village Site of Tees Kwat
Shortly after the colony of British Columbia (BC) joined Confederation on July 20th, 1871 there was a strong push by the government to stimulate industry in the Province. While the BC Government was striving to promote economic growth and encourage settlement, it was also trying to address the Indian land question that has festered during the latter part of the colonial period (post Governor Douglas).
To stimulate industrial development, the government issued a number of timber leases during the period immediately following Confederation, which in some instances resulted in a loss of traditional Indian lands. Tensions between Indians and settlers also increased after Confederation from the growing number of Indian lands that were being alienated through the B.C. Government’s issuances of pre-emptions and sales. One such case was the loss of the Sliammon fishing village known as Tees Kwat.
In 1860, the Sliammon people were visited at this site by a Catholic missionary named Father Durieu, who attempted to convert them to Catholicism, and persuaded them to gather in one village with other groups at Sliammon Creek, a few miles north.
Shortly after that time, a land speculator and one-time Mayor of Victoria, named R.P Rithet discovered the area, through a trip made by a business associate, named Sewell P. Moody, to nearby Texada Island. This was described as a “shooting trip”. However many business interests had their eye on the general areas for industrial development, including a possible railway terminus to be put in at Bute Inlet. The objective of the voyage was to look at the possibility of an iron mine on Texada Island. The members of the government who organized this enterprise were eventually brought before an inquiry, and the issue became known as the “Texada Scandal.”
R.P. Rithet became interested in the land at the river mouth across from Texada Island as a mill site, and gained a timber lease fort the area around Tees Kwat (Lot 450) in 1874; on the condition he would build a mill there. The lease, when it was awarded, caused great concern to the Sliammon people, and Gilbert M. Sproat the head of the Joint Reserve Commission (formed in 1876 to settle Indian land questions), requested that the land in the area be held for Sliammon and neighboring groups until he could attend to them.
The government of the time, influenced by Rithet’s and other business interests in the area, attempted to stifle any attempts by the Joint Reserve Commission to intervene, with the issue even gaining a public airing in the provincial press. Sproat responded that the Sliammon and neighboring tribes were engaged in hand logging, and therefore required their timber lands, making them very anxious about losing access to lands near their Sliammon Creek Village site.
Through connections with certain members of the government of the day, Rithet was able to purchase the land in 1878 – in spite of the fact the promised timber mill had not been built as required, and was not, until Mr. Moody bought the lands years later.
Due to potentially violent problems in the Interior – caused by the racist policies of Premier Truch’s government, Mr. Sproat was not able to reach Sliammon before the new Commissioner, Peter Orielly, replaced him in 1880; by this time it was too late. The matter was not settled until 1888, when Indian Reserve Commissioner Orielly established several reserves for the Sliammon people, none of which included the village site at the mouth of Tees Kwat Creek.
Much of the value of this site for traditional uses was put to an end after 1910, when the now-named Powell River was dammed for power to run a large paper mill. By 1913, the salmon run in Powell River had come to a permanent end, and a large portion of the piece of land known as Lot 450 was on the road to heavy industrial and urban development – eventually to become the town known as Powell River.
The Great Death
For decades after contact, Coastal Aboriginal peoples were struck with wave after wave of contagious diseases. Influenza, measles, small pox, and tuberculosis each wreaked devastation for Sliammon people. We can only guess the number of dead amongst the Coast Salish population that was estimated at 12,000 in 1835 and dropped to a low of 4,120 in 1915.
The epidemics seemed to hit Vancouver Island particularly hard as record numbers of aboriginal deaths were recorded in the Victoria area. The Pentlatch people immediately south of the Island Comox were extinguished and the few surviving Island Comox were absorbed by neighboring villages or integrated with the Lekwiltok, who occupied Comox village by 1850.
Culturally, Sliammon is linked most closely with all those who speak our language – the Sliammon, Homalco, Klahoose, and Comox. Anthropologists also link us culturally with the speakers of two other languages, Pentlatch (now extinct) and Sechelt. Together we comprise the “Northern Coast Salish” grouping within the Northwest Coast Culture area. The overall territory occupied by the Northern Coast Salish prior to around 1800 encompassed the mainland from Call Inlet in the north to Roberts Creek in the south, and Vancouver Island from Kelsey Bay in the north to around Parksville in the south, including the offshore islands. We share many family ties and territory.
Indeed, the Sliammon, Klahoose and Homalco are often considered “one people” by academics and elders alike. We have intermarried extensively with our immediate neighbors and have at times shared villages and resource gathering areas. Traditionally, groups who identified themselves as Sliammon, Homalco, and Klahoose each occupied a cluster of villages and recognized a territory associated with these villages. The Sliammon and Northern Coast Salish had no rigid identification of a territory. Precise boundaries were not always clearly delineated through things such as marking the shoreline with boulders, or fighting over property found at the frontiers of one’s lands, as was the case with B.C.’s other First Nations.
The effects of the devastation must not be underestimated. All aspects of Sliammon language, culture, history, knowledge and even our gene pool, were pulled through the eye of a needle. Very few of our people survived, let alone could fight long and hard enough to effectively pass their knowledge on to their children. By the turn of the century Sliammon, Klahoose, and Homalco’s numbers were less than 300 individuals, approximately 50% under the age of 18 years.
The mandatory residential school system has already been in affect for more than 40 years and would continue for another 70 years. The punitive powers of the Oblates were at their highest affecting everything from who married and when, to how people’s monies were spent. Traditional social order began to unwind as a result of the assault on traditional knowledge, beliefs and practices.
Sliammon Treaty Negotiations
Sliammon is currently in Stage 5 of treaty negotiations and has invested thirteen years, and approximately 9 million dollars into negotiating a Sliammon Final Agreement. The Final Agreement is made up of 26 Chapters, and is linked to 11 separate side agreements.
The Final Agreement contains some very significant gains to Sliammon. It also falls short in providing important guarantees that Sliammon has been seeking. Governments have been unable to accommodate changes that Sliammon has been pursuing. Each Party to the agreement has reached its limit. It is now time to step back from negotiating mode, and assess whether Sliammon can accept the overall package.
The Final Agreement will be put to the Sliammon community for a ratification vote. The community will be asked to decide whether the Final Agreement is acceptable by Sliammon. An Enrolment process is now underway in preparation for a community vote.
The next phase of work will shift away from negotiating with Canada and British Columbia, to working with the Sliammon community to “explain the contents” of the Final Agreement, and to making plans for administrative transitions needed to manage new sets of responsibilities that come along with finished treaty.