Shxw’ōwhámél people are the Stólō and Coast Salish people of the Tiyt [teet]Tribe. The area around Shxw’ōwhámél has many points of importance, generally in the watersheds of Jones, Lorenzetti, and Hunter Creeks.
Just as Hope is of the Fraser Valley of British Columbia; Shxw’ōwhámél is part of the Tiyt Tribe of the Stólō Nation . Shxw’ōwhámél (Ohamil) I.R #1, is geographically located 13 kilometers west of Hope BC along the Trans Canada Highway. Shxw’ōwhámél also has 2 other reserves: Wahleach IR #2 located along the Lougheed Highway, and Xelhálh (kuth-lath) IR#3 located north of Yale BC along Highway #1.
Xelhálh holds special significance for us. Xelhálh was strategically placed overlooking the Fraser River, and was protected by a fortress and the river itself. The river in this area has several whirlpools and rapids which, back then, made it challenging to navigate to shore for any 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 our remaining ancestors were moved by the colonial government. The federal government moved our ancenstor to Shxw’ōwhámél trying to encourage them to pursue agricultural as way of building a substancial economy. This idea shifted our people away from relying on fishing, hunting, and gathering and trading between the communities.
What Shxw’ōwhámél means
Shxw’ōwhámél traditionally means 'where the river levels and widens'. Shxw’ōwhámél people have occupied this territory since time immemorial. We are a community of 200 members with approximately 150 people residing on the main reserve.
The Stólō people
Stólō means 'People of the River' in our Traditional Halq'eméylem language. The Fraser River was central to the lives of our ancestors and was formerly used as a major transportation conduit for facilitating trade with other villages. The Fraser River was and still remains a critical resource to our peoples' way of life as a food source . The lands and waters of our territory have provided many traditional resources of great value to the people of Shxw’ōwhámél. Aside from the salmon and sturgeon from the river, our people strategically walked the lands to hunt for deer, to harvest traditional plants and berries for food and medicines.
What our traditional life looked like
Our traditional life involved hunting, fishing, and gathering for survival and to trade with other villages along the Fraser River. One of the methods of hunting deer in this area was done by corralling deer into a narrowing of the land between the mountains and the river, they would run from hunters and jump off a cliff where they were collected to harvest. .The animals were a resource not only food but for our traditional clothing, drums and tools. Plants were harvested for food and medicinal purposes and materials such as the cedar tree were used for constructing buildings such as longhouses, pithouses, canoes, paddles, etc. And the inner bark of the tree was used to make items such as baskets, rope, clothing accessories, etc. There was a purpose for every part in whatever we caught or harvested, nothing went to waste. The life givers, the warriors, and the Elders had a duty to teach, the younger ones right from the time they could walk and talk, had a duty to do hands on learning, everyone was busy doing something for the whole community to thrive.
Our aboriginal way of life was never taken for granted. We celebrated through ceremony to show respect and appreciation to all the four legged, winged and finned creatures that provided us with food, celebrated the plants for returning in the spring, celebrated our life givers, celebrated our warriors, etc. We had ceremonies such as a naming ceremonies; one can receive a traditional name by it being passed down from Elder to Youth, and if that couldn't be done, once their personality, gifts and talent was recognized by the Elders, they received their traditional name that represented their talent. We celebrated puberty with a Passage of Rights ceremony. We had potlatches to celebrate winter, spring, summer and fall solstices. There are also fasting grounds for men and women, and sacred water pools located in the mountains south of Shxw’ōwhámél.
Depending on the location, time of the year, and status of the family, our people lived in either, a Longhouse which was built above ground like a modern house, or a Pithouse, which was below ground level. 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 the claiming of family fishing sites in the area along the Fraser River. These fishing sites have been passed down in families through generations. An area immediately south of Trans Canada Highway has evidence of many pithouses, some of which date back thousands of years.
The History of the Sturgeon
Our Elders tell us, there was a time when
animals could talk to humans and humans
could change their shape.
Long ago, there was a time the world was not
quite right, everything seemed to be mixed up.
Into this world came X̱ex̱:áls.
X̱ex̱:áls came to transform the world and make it right again. Some people call X̱ex̱:áls, the 'transformer', others say he was the 'Little Christ', and some would call him the 'magician'.
Depsite what anybody called him, X̱ex̱:áls had very special 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 continued transforming many people 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, because it was harsh times during this winter. The salmon and eulachon only came in the spring and summer time. The river had nothing to offer the people during this winter.
During this time of famine, a young man of the village begged X̱ex̱:áls to transform him to help his people so they didn't have to starve anymore. To do so, X̱ex̱:áls instructed him to dive into the river, and as he dove in, he transformed him into the Sturgeon. The sturgeon was to be plentiful for the people to last all year round. As time went on, the young man's wife had cried and cried for her husband and was so lonely without him. One night, in her dreams, she was told to stand by the river and wait, so the next day she tied a piece of dried meat to her wrist eating a little at a time, and went to stand 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 that piece of dried meat tied to her wrist, all sturgeon today have a dark tasty meat behind their gills.
Our traditional life has been disrupted in many ways with the intrusion of Europeans in our area. The people of Shxw’ōwhámél, as with all Stólō people, were hit hard with the small pox epidemic in the 1780s. This sickness our people has never seen before, 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 devastating impact on our territory as 30,000 miners encroached upon our lands. The small pox epidemic and the gold rush intrusion wasn't enough to wipe out our race; the federal government and catholic churches created the residential school system which had an even further devastating affect on our communities. Our children as young as five years old were abducted and imprisoned at these residential schools far outside their territories. The schools were placed in Kamloops, Mission, Port Alberni, Alert Bay and Sechelt, just to name a few. The last residential school finally closed in the 1980's. The ultimate goal of these schools were to kill the indian in the child, to create the perfect citizen. But the priests and nuns had other plans for them. They were abused in every way one could think of; the children had no one to fight for them.
Surviving and Thriving
Over the years, our community has re-emerged from the threats posed by colonialism. In the early 1970s, we had approximately 40 members, currently, we have nearly 200 members.
The re-establishment of the traditional Si:yam system of governance was brought back in 1994. This will always be a very important milestone in our community's development. With the construction of new houses and access to services, this has enabled us to strengthen our community in numbers and begin to re-establish our cultural roots.
We will always honour and respect the past chiefs and councilors.
Our hands go up to you for all the hard work and dedication that brought us this far.
Yalh yexw kwas hoy.