We Are The Shuswap
We are aboriginal, a First Nation of Canada. This means we identify ourselves as the First peoples to inhabit this land, the First Nation here. We believe we have been here for time immemorial. We have always lived here.
We live in the Plateau Cultural Area of British Columbia. Our language grouping is Interior Salish, and we are called the Secwepemc or Shuswap Nation. We use the word nation instead of tribe now and there is no other place on our Mother Earth we call home. Two hundred years ago there was only us here. Our light skinned brothers from Europe came after and recognized us as North American Indians.
Our climate is semi-arid, or mostly dry. Rolling hills, flat open grassy plains, densely wooded forests, lakes, rivers, and swamps is all that we call home. Everything we needed to live our lives was provided for in our environment. Our food and clothing were the fur bearing animals. The plants were food and medicine. Tools were made from the animals, plants and rocks (the bones of our mother earth). Nothing was wasted. To waste something was to be unimaginably disrespectful. How can you throw away a gift?
Our history was oral. We did not have a written language. We used sign language and rock symbols or petroglyphs to communicate with other first nation people that did not speak the same language that we do. Since our history was oral, we depended on our elders to teach us our history, and to memorize it so we could pass it down to the next generations when we became elders.
We were a nomadic people, moving to fishing and hunting areas, depending on the season. We were not farmers or ranchers. We lived with the land not off it like a parasite taking and taking, using everything up. We knew where to collect roots, berries, plants, nuts, mushrooms, and where to fish and hunt. We thanked our Creator for the food we were given. We thanked the plant for its’ life before we picked it, and made sure there was enough of it left to go on living. We have never used up any resources. We honor all of life, everything that was given to us from the root vegetable to the deer that gave us meat, clothing and tools.
As with other original peoples of North America, our spirituality was found in everything in our environment. We believe our Creator made everything in, on, above and under our mother earth. Since our Creator made everything, then everything is sacred to us, and must be honored in a good and kind way.
Our summer and winter homes were all within a certain area that we call a territory. At the time of contact with our brothers from Europe, the Shuswap Territory was 180,000 square kilometers, with a population of 21,000 people living in30 bands. Bands are communities, each with a chief and council. Shuswap territory is now 575 square kilometers, with a population of 5000 people living in 17 bands.
The leaders of our communities were Chiefs. Traditionally it was a hereditary position through the male line. The chief had the greatest responsibility for his people. Council members gave opinions and elders gave their wisdom, to assist the chief in making decisions. A chief was a respected position, not a show of wealth and power. A good chief was mirrored in the health and happiness of his people.
Our teachers were our elders, and every living thing. We learned how to fish by watching Grandmother Spider, we learned to be good mothers by watching mother bear, and we learned to live as a ‘community’ by watching pack animals like wolves. We have many teachers.
With a good heart, we welcome you to our territory.