In this article, we reflect on Indigenous History Month and express our appreciation for the different nations whose traditional and unceded territories we live and operate on in the Lower Mainland. Join us as we acknowledge and learn about the lands of the traditional and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), QayQayt First Nation, Kwantlen, q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen First Nations, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), and Stó:lō Nation.
The name xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) relates back to the flowering plant, məθkʷəy̓, which once abundantly grew throughout Musqueam territory. Today, the community is over 1,300 members and continues to grow. Many of the members live on a small portion of the traditional territory, known as the Musqueam Indian Reserve, located south of Marine Drive near the mouth of the Fraser River.
The Squamish Nation, as a government, has existed since 1923. In the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim language, we are called Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw. The territory of the Squamish People includes the Burrard Inlet, English Bay, False Creek, and Howe Sound watersheds.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is one of many groups of Coast Salish peoples living in the Pacific Northwest, throughout British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. To sustain and strengthen the culture, they: Think big and act decisively to care for the lands and waters, Build strong relationships based on trust and mutual respect, Participate in all social, economic, cultural and political activities taking place on our lands, Share wealth of knowledge with the broader community.
The Qayqayt First Nation (qiqéyt), also known as the New Westminster Indian Band, is a First Nation located in New Westminster, British Columbia. The band historically spoke the Downriver Dialect of Halkomelem called hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, a Coast Salish language. The community is one of the smallest First Nations in Canada and the only one registered without a land base. As of June 2021, the Nation had 15 registered members.
Kwantlen First Nation is a First Nations band government in British Columbia, Canada, located primarily in Fort Langley. Since time immemorial, they live by the seven traditional laws that guided their ancestors: health, happiness, generations, generosity, humbleness, forgiveness and understanding. Kwantlen translates to tireless runner. Following rich legacy and traditions, they continue to work tirelessly at building a strong sense of community within their traditional territory.
The Katzie Ancestors tell us that the name q̓ic̓əy̓ means “land of the moss.” The name was given by Swaneset whose sky wife directed him to gather people together at a site on the Fraser River. At the centre of the territory is sq̓ə́yc̓əyaʔɬ x̌acaʔ (the lake of the Katzie), now known as Pitt Lake. The territory extends to include the streams, rivers, and lands included within the present-day municipalities of Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Surrey, Langley and Delta.
The Semiahma are a proud and determined trans-boundary nation located in both Canada and the United States. While the traditional territories are now divided between the two countries, they remain closely connected to the Lummi & Nooksack who live in the United States. They are primarily tied through the common language of North Straits Salish, as well as their traditional fishing methods and the use of common lands.
Their land base is deeply connected to their identity. The traditional territory is bordered on the northeast by the watersheds that feed into Pitt Lake, down the Pitt River to the city of Pitt Meadows, where they empty into the Fraser River. It includes Burns Bog and part of New Westminster, following the outflow of the Fraser River just south of Sea Island. From Sea Island, it cuts west across the Salish Sea to Galiano Island and includes all of Saltspring, Pender and Saturna Islands. From there, the territory continues northeast to include the Point Roberts Peninsula and the watersheds of the Serpentine and Nicomeckl rivers.
The kʷikʷəƛ̓əm have lived in and cared for the ancestral territory which is referred today as the Coquitlam Watershed since before remembered time. They remain true to the teachings of their ancestors to guide future generations. Today, as in the past, they honour and respect their role as stewards and guardians of the lands, spirits, waters, and all living things. kʷikʷəƛ̓əm draw their name “Red Fish Up the River” from an early spring sockeye salmon run that once flourished in the Coquitlam River and Coquitlam Lake prior to the construction of the Coquitlam Dam.
The Stó:lō people, Mission’s first inhabitants, have lived in the area for at least 4,000 to 10,000 years, and are the architects of Mission’s Xa:ytem Rock, one of Canada’s oldest archaeological findings. Their traditional territory extends across the Fraser Valley and the Fraser Canyon. Speaking Halq’eméylem (a dialect of the Coast Salish language Halkomelem), the name Stó:lō means “People of the River” as the Stó:lō primarily rely on the Fraser River and its tributaries for their way of life.
Taking the time to learn about our rich history as Canadians living on these traditional and unceded lands can help us pave a path of reconciliation. While recognizing Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples extends far beyond understanding the lands we inhabit, we can make a commitment to honoring their culture and ancestral territories. Together, let us embrace this journey of understanding and actively support Indigenous communities in preserving their heritage and connection to the land.
At Big Sisters, we are grateful to serve a diverse group of Indigenous girls and self-identifying youth through our mentorship programs. We remain committed to deepening our knowledge and taking meaningful actions towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.