Our people have lived on this land from time before memory. Western science has identified the oldest lasting traces of our people in S’ólh Téméxw as 10,000 years old.
Sxwōxwiyám, or stories from past times when the world was not yet right, tell of Xexá:ls (the transformers) travelling through S’ólh Téméxw making changes. People who acted wrongly were turned to stone. Others were rewarded by transforming them into important local resources. They fixed people, animals, and land features such as rivers and mountains. These transformations established the current landscape.
Approximately 5,000 years ago the Fraser Valley landscape was stabilizing environmentally, geologically, and culturally. Cultural remains from that time are recognizably Coast-Salish and Stó:lō. Salmon increased in abundance. Permanent house structures indicate a less mobile people and likely an increase in specialization in society.
About the time of contact and the introduction of small pox Stó:lō people numbered in the tens of thousands. Introduced by the Spanish and travelling quickly from the south, smallpox arrived in S’ólh Téméxw in 1782 and is estimated to have killed two thirds of the Stó:lō people in a matter of six weeks. Small pox and a range of other disease agents are estimated to have reduced Aboriginal populations in North America by 90%. The result of course was the total disappearance of some settlements, and drastic changes and movements in others.
Stó:lō society had many levels of collective identity based on language, beliefs, ancestors, in-law relationships, spiritual connections, and watershed “tribal” proximity of villages. Coast-Salish people consider the ocean as providing free and open passage to all. Included in this open access category is the Stó:lō (the river of rivers, also known as the Fraser River) and Harrison Lake. Other water bodies are considered more restricted and controlled by local inhabitants. One such tribal watershed is Lexwthíthesam (Garnet/Ruby Creek) of the Sq’ewá:lxw (Skawahlook) people.
Family origins and connections define the land, water, and other resources available for use by Skawahlook people. In the past, marriage practices provided security of access to resources such as fishing, picking, and trapping areas. Skawahlook people were originally invited guests at Ruby Creek having intermarried and migrated from Spuzzum. Skawahlook members (descendants of Joseph Chapman of Spuzzum) have direct family ties to Yale (the Jacks), Spuzzum (Matilda Chapman, daughter of Johnny Chapman originally of Spuzzum) and Lytton. Family connections are strongest north of the Fraser and into the Fraser Canyon.
It is normal that territory is shared and traditional use areas are within the traditional territory of other Nations. Skawahlook has had shared interests throughout the Fraser Valley as far west as Katzie and particularly Seabird Island which was a common area for all Stó:lō people. The entire north shore of the Fraser River was heavily populated with Stó:lō people. Skawahlook ancestors are at rest from Lytton to Katzie.
Family visits and resource harvesting journeys were long affairs covering great distances. Hunting, picking, and trapping took place far back into the mountains north of Ruby Creek, rendezvousing with people from Lytton. People had the freedom to roam to gain a livelihood. When Skawahlook people went to the Canyon to fish people from down-river would move into their houses and plant gardens which Skawahlook people would later harvest. Sharing was very different then. This area of shared interests is approximately 269,000 hectares in size.
Belonging to the Stó:lō (people of the river), Sq’ewá:lxw (Skawahlook) First Nation people have long established ties to our tribal lands in and around the Lexwthíthesam and Lexwskw’owōwelh watersheds. This area of core interests is approximately 11,000 hectares in size. Sq’ewá:lxw means bend in the river, referring to the place where Lexwskw’owōwelh empties into the Stó:lō (Fraser River). Skawahlook IR #1 is located in this area. The population in 1808 is estimated to have been between 60 to 180 people. Long houses were located east of the current reserve.
T’it’emtámex (or T’ámiya’s home) is north of the reserves and is a place of a transformer event. Located within T’it’emtámex and between the current Skawahlook reserves are rock bluffs which present the profile of Blowing Man. It is a very windy place.
The forests of our watershed have long supported our people and more recently they have been heavily utilized by outsiders. Mining claims held by others cover much of the land. Water licence applications have been registered on our creeks. Skawahlook First Nation will be actively reclaiming our place as rightful stewards of our land.
Indian reserves were first created in 1858, ostensibly to protect the native population from outsiders, but practically to limit the movements of the Indians and allow the free movement of newcomers without having to meet the colonial government’s political and legal requirements. The first wave of outsiders was the miners, but it was the second wave, the settlers, which most impacted Stó:lō people. Governor James Douglas established reserves that were considered large enough to support European agriculture. Joseph Trutch, who in 1864 assumed responsibility for the Indians, unilaterally reduced the reserves by 95% and made it illegal for Stó:lō people to own land.
Pre-contact Stó:lō life was centered on a seasonal round of activities tied to the changing location and abundance of food resources. Post-contact the seasonal round continued but evolved to utilize a new set of opportunities. By 1910, Skawahlook people would make a primary living from agriculture with seasonal activities including a trip to the Fraser canyon to catch and dry fish and a fall trip to harvest hops near Chilliwack.
Formerly considered by others to be part of the “Tait” band, the Skawahlook First Nation was established on June 13th, 1879.