The Secwepemc of the Shuswap Lakes region are commonly known by non natives as the “Shuswap”. The ancestors of the Secwepemc people have lived in the interior of BC since time immemorial. Originally the Secwepemc in this region were one group and held a vast territory, first stake by Chief Neskonlith that became the Colonial Neskonlith Douglas Reserve. The Secwepemc of the Shuswap Lakes are part of 17 bands of the Secwepemc Nation who occupy the south central interior of British Columbia, Canada.
Although the bands were separate and independent, they were united by a common language - Secwepemctsin - and a similar culture and belief system". And through alliances and kinship they regulated use of the land and resources, and protected the territories of the Shuswap.
The Secwepemc of the Shuswap Lakes include; Adams Lake Indian Band, Little Shuswap Indian Band and Neskonlith Indian Band and are located near Chase, “a town named after an American gold miner who settled in the area in 1867 and married an aboriginal woman with whom he had nine children. In 1907, an American logging company bought land in Chase and set up the Adams River Lumber Company
“According to the early fur traders, Adams Lake was named after Chief Sel-howt-ken, who had been baptised "Adam" in 1849 by a Jesuit missionary. Praised as a fine man and an assiduous hunter, the Chief was last mentioned in a journal in April 1862 - which means that he likely died in the catastrophic smallpox epidemic of the same year.”
Their traditional homelands, encompassed a wet and dry belt forest that spread across a diverse territory with fast flowing rivers to semi-arid, desert-like terrain and rolling grasslands.
Since the ice caps melted thousands of years ago the Thompson River was formed and is “the longest tributary of the Fraser River”. It is an important part of the eco system that drains one of the major watersheds in central region and provides one quarter of the waters that flow into the Fraser River. [Simon Fraser gave the river its name for his fellow explorer David Thompson.]
For the Secwepemc the lands were abundant with natural resources which they used wisely and conservatively. The spirit of the land, animals and plants were respected by the Secwepemc as a result all that they provided was never destroyed, abused or exploited.
Within the region another major watershed is located which, enters Shuswap Lake at the north end of the Okanagan Valley, is known as the Salmon River watershed. The river supply critical spawning ground and “rearing habitat for indigenous populations of coho and chinook salmon, as well as Adams River sockeye. Many fish species and various plant and animal species also rely upon the river for habitat and food resources”. For the Secwepemc these fisheries resources provide a staple source of protein and” included early spawning runs which supplement the later (and larger) Adams River runs”. (Quadra Planning Consultants Ltd., 1996). Thompson Region (Chase and Salmon Arm)
With European contact the riches of the Thompson region were sought by the new comers and the area became an important commerce centre dependant upon natural resources; furs, minerals and timber, agriculture and ranching. With the arrival of the Fur traders in 1811, a trading post was established near the present site of Kamloops.
Competing fur expansion was rigorous and expanding westward. The Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846 forced the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) to seek a new route for its fur brigades instead of the route down the Okanagan and Columbia Rivers. Alexander Anderson sought passage from “Fort Kamloops to Fort Langley, through the Coquihalla Trail, a route via Seton (HBC Horse Road), which was high above the Fraser Canyon between Spuzzum and Hell's Gate”.
Also eager to find riches the gold prospectors found their way into the region and settlers came and ranched along the rolling grasslands which were ideal for grazing cattle. In the1880s construction of the railway (CPR) came straight through the South Thompson Valley forming an interior “rail centre and cattle town”.
Today expansion is continuing which concerns the Secwepemc, particularly in areas of habitat loss, loss of agricultural land, impacts of invasive or non-native plant species, water management and deteriorating water quality in some lakes. Other major concerns include Mountain Resort expansion in eco-sensitive areas, Mountain Pine Beetle impact on forest health, marginalization from urban and rural growth management that is occurring without Secwepemc consultation, nor accommodation.
author Judy Wilson
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