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Who are the Secwepemc?
The Secwepemc People, known by non-natives as the Shuswap, are a Nation of 17 bands occupying the south-central part of the Province of British Columbia, Canada. The ancestors of the Secwepemc people have lived in the interior of British Columbia for at least 10,000 years.
At the time of contact with Europeans in the late 18th century, the Secwepemc occupied a vast territory, extending from the Columbia River valley on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains to the Fraser River on the west and from the upper Fraser River in the north to the Arrow Lakes in the south. Traditional Shuswap territory covers approximately 145,000 square kilometres (56,000 square miles).
The Nation was a political alliance that regulated use of the land and resources, and protected the territories of the Shuswap. Although the bands were separate and independent, they were united by a common language - Secwepemctsin - and a similar culture and belief system.
The traditional Secwepemc were a semi-nomadic people, living during the winter in warm semi-underground "pit-houses" and during the summer in mat lodges made of reeds. The traditional Shuswap economy was based on fishing, hunting and trading. Shuswap diet consisted of fish, meat, berries and roots. The lifestyle, based on respect for nature, depended on traditional aboriginal skills and knowledge handed down from generation to generation by oral tradition. However, in the 19th century the Secwepemc culture was transformed with the appearance of fur traders, missionaries, gold miners, and settlers.
Diseases, introduced by the white man, decimated the native population after contact. In 1862 a severe epidemic of smallpox devastated the native people of British Columbia, wiping out of the 32 villages of the Shuswap. Around the same time, the Hudson's Bay Company fur trade monopoly was ended and British Crown authority was established to maintain order and control settlement. Indian reserves were established during this colonial period.
In 1871, British Columbia became a province of Canada and the federal Department of Indian Affairs took over responsibility for every aspect of the Secwepemc social, political, and economic livelihood. The Catholic Church, in conjunction with the federal government, looked after the religious conversion of the Secwepemc people. In the 1890s two large "industrial" schools were established in Secwepemc territory at Kamloops and near Williams Lake. The Indian Residential Schools closed in the 1970s but have been the centre of much controversy in recent years. Their legacy continues to be felt in the lives of Secwepemc people.
In the late 19th century, the population of the Secwepemc people was estimated to be about 7,200 persons. Decline continued in the early 20th century. The shift in population between Indians and whites meant that power and control was now in the hands of the newcomers. The population of the Secwepemc Nation today has now grown to its historic levels in the early 19th century.
Looking to a prosperous future.
The Secwepemc peoples have taken many assertive and positive steps to rebuild their nation, some of which include the signing and presentation of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier memorial by Secwepemc and other Interior Chiefs in 1910. Throughout the following years to the 1960's the Secwepemc participated in WWI and WWII, as well as distinguishing themselves in farming, ranching and other business enterprises. They succeeded many times and were repeatedly forced backwards into being the local labour supply through different government legislation and non-Native manipulation of the system to take away the initiatives of the Secwepemc. The people have again rebounded by starting the management of their community administrations as early as 1969, which followed shortly after with protest marches and rallies over poor quality federal services leading to the closure of the Department of Indian Affairs office in Kamloops by the Secwepemc and other interior First Nations in 1975.
Since the increasing of the control of Secwepemc communities and resources by the people, the communities have grown in sophistication, in economic development, social development and the Secwepemc language, history and culture are on the return. This is evidenced by the various declarations that have been signed and enacted upon by the Secwepemc peoples. While the ravages of the different destructive policies and activities by the government, religious organizations and non-Secwepemc business interests have not been eradicated from the Secwepemc society, we have made progress against the effects of alcoholism, high mortality rate for babies, poor parenting, loss of children through adoption to non-Secwepemc, high incarceration rates, violence and multi-generational, ongoing social problems. The Secwepemc, like many First Nations, are a saga of determination against overwhelming odds. Where many would have perished or given up, the Secwepemc have persevered and slowly have begun to succeed.
This web site is indicative of the many ways that the Secwepemc have taken steps to rebuild the Secwepemc Nation, communities and people, and through that, regain control and responsibility for Secwepemc lands, resources and rights. The Secwepemc are fortunate in that they are one of the few First Nations to have created and established a number of organizations, institutions and initiatives. The hard work has paid off in the establishment of the stronger communities, Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, Secwepemc Cultural Education Society and many other organizations are reflections of the Secwepemc perseverance. Today, more than any previous time period since contact, the Secwepemc can again say that, â€œThings are looking better, we have a real chance at surviving and living happily as a Secwepemc peoples on the Secwepemc lands.