S'ólh téméxw te íkw'elò. xólhmet te mekw' stám it kwelát
This is our land. We have to take care of everything that belongs to us.
The history of
About Shxw’ōwhámél First Nation.
We, the Stólō and Coast Salish people of Shxw’ōwhámél and the Tiyt Tribe have always occupied our territory. We are a community of 200 members with approximately 100 people living on our main reserve: Shxw’ōwhámél (Ohamil) I.R #1.
Central to the lives of our ancestors and our community today is the Fraser River, (Stólō means people of of the Fraser River in our Traditional Language, Halq'eméylem). The Fraser River is critical to our community's life as a food source and formerly as a major transportation conduit facilitating trade with other villages. Shxw’ōwhámél traditionally means 'where the river levels and widens', which refers to the area around Shxw’ōwhámél. The lands and waters of our territory have traditionally provided many resources of great value to the people of Shxw’ōwhámél, including salmon and sturgeon, deer, plants and berries for food and medicines, animals for clothing and drums, and materials such as cedar for constructing buildings such as longhouses and making baskets.
Our traditional life involved hunting, fishing, gathering and trade with other villages along the Fraser River as well as practice various ceremonies such as naming ceremonies, puberty ceremonies, potlatches, and winter dances. People lived in either, longhouses, or pithouses depending on the location, time of the year, and status of the family. Given the abundance of locally available resources and the prevalence of trade with other nations, the Stólō people generally lived in permanent settlements. An example of this permanency in the area is that family fishing sites in the area along the Fraser River have been passed down in families through generations.
Our traditional life has been disrupted in many ways with the arrival of Europeans in our area and colonization. The people of Shxw’ōwhámél, along with all Stólō people, were hit hard with small pox epidemic in the 1780s which killed up to 90% of people in some villages. Much of the epidemic was spread through trade with other nations emanating from present-day Oregon. the Fraser River gold rush also had a significant impact on our territory as 30,000 miners encroached upon our lands. the residential school system also impacted our community as children were sent to St. Mary's, Coqueleetza and schools far outside our territory, such as Kamloops and sechelt.
The area around Shxw’ōwhámél has many points of importance, generally in the watersheds of Jones, Lorenzetti, and Hunter Creeks. An area immediately south of Trans Canada Highway has evidence of many pithouses, some of which date back thousands of years. Another activity of critical importance to the community was the hunting of deer in this area which, in one practice, was done by corralling deer into a narrowing of the land between the mountains and the river. There are also fasting grounds for men and women, and sacred pools located in the mountains south of Shxw’ōwhámél.
Xelhálh (Kuthlalth) (Present day I.R #3) holds special significance for us. Xelhálh was strategically located with the village overlooking the Fraser River, protected by a fortress and the river itself as there were several whirlpools and rapids that made it challenging to navigate to shore for those people unfamiliar with the area. In addition to the remnants of the fortress, Xelhálh was the home for a large number of people up until the 1850s, when the population was decimated by the smallpox epidemic and our remaining ancestors were moved, by the colonial government, to Shxw’ōwhámél to encourage them to pursue agricultural as way of building a subsistence economy. This shifted people away from relying on fishing, hunting, gathering and trade for feeding the community.
Over the years, our community has re-emerged from the threats posed by colonialism, small pox, loss of land, and residential schools. In the early 1970s, we had approximately 40 members. Currently, we have nearly 200 members. While we honour and respect the past chief and councils, the re-establishment of the traditional Si:yam system of governance in 1994 was an important milestone in our community's development. The construction of new houses and access to services has enabled us to strengthen our community and begin to re-establish our cultural roots.
The story of the Sturgeon.
Long ago, the world was not quite right, everything seemed to be mixed up.
Our Elders tell us, there was a time where animals could talk to people
and people could change their shape. Into this world came X̱ex̱:áls, X̱ex̱:áls
came to transform the world and make it right. Some people call X̱ex̱:áls
the 'transformer', others say he was the 'Little Christ', and some call him
the 'magician'. X̱ex̱:áls had very special magical powers. He traveled
throughout the land transforming things into their permanent shape. He punished wicked people by transforming them into stone, and rewarded good people by transforming them into useful creatures. As X̱ex̱:áls traveled up the Fraser River, he transformed people at many places on his journey. It was winter when he reached the village known as Shxw’ōwhámel, he noticed that the people of the village were starving, mostly because it was difficult to find food in the winter months. The salmon and eulachon only came into the river in the spring and summer. During the winter, the river was empty.
X̱ex̱:áls wanted to help the people of Shxw’ōwhámél, so he transformed one of the men of the village into the Sturgeon. The sturgeon was a fish to last in the river all year round. As time went on, the mans wife had become very lonely without her husband. One night, in her dreams, she was told to stand by the river and wait, and the next day she did. She carried her lunch, a piece of dried meat tied to her wrist, and stood by the river. As she stood there, in the snow, her husband called her to join him. She dove into the river and was transformed into the female sturgeon. Because she had her lunch tied to her wrist, all sturgeon today have a dark tasty meat behind their gills.