First Nations - Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia


Secwepemc elder Irene Billy protesting in 2001 at the Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre near Kamloops. Her sign "Ohkudo GO HOME" is a message to the Japanese owner of the Sun Peaks Development Corporation which operates a ski resort in Secwepemc Territory.
Photo: Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre






"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 BC for at least 10,000 years. At the time of contact with Europeans in the late 18th century, the Secwepemc occupied a vast territory ... 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" Secwepemc Cultural Education Society.

The Land of the Secwepemc: "The Secwepemc [pronounced suh-wep-muh] territory covers a vast area; approximately 180,000 square km. The territory, traditionally, was an extensive and varied environment, although much of the territory today is destroyed by forestry, mining, mass scale tourisms, and other commercial developments." See an interactive environmental map that shows the locations of the Secwepemc bands: Secwepemc Traditional Territory.

View of Kamloops Lake from the West.
Photo: Bonnie Leonard (SNTC)


Secwepemc Territory. (Click to enlarge)
Maps: Secwepemc Cultural Education Society

Shuswap Nation Tribal Council (SNTC) represents ten bands: Sexqeltqin (Adams Lake); Kamloops; Kenpesq't (Shuswap); Quaaout (Little Shuswap); Neskonlith; Splats'in (Spallumcheen); St'uxwtews (Bonaparte); Skeetchestn; Whispering Pines, Clinton (Pelltiq't); Simpcw (North Thompson). Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC) is the umbrella for: Tsq'escen' (Canim Lake); Xats'ull, 'Cm'etem' (Soda Creek, Deep Creek); Stswecem'c /Xgat'tem (Canoe Creek, Dog Creek); T'exelc (Williams Lake). Non affiliated bands are: Ts'kw'aylaxw (Pavillion); Esketemc (Alkali Lake); and Llenlleney'ten (High Bar).

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Environmental destruction.
Illustration by George Ignace, 2003

  Beautiful BC is a sarcastic rap tune written in 2007 by Skeetchestn George Ignace, who is also an artist (left). His mother describes this image as showing "the Secwepemc youth's perspective on the environmental destruction and urbanization affecting Secwepemcúlecw ... The green space on the top right shows how our lands are affected by pollution and 'biohazards,' the blue space on the bottom left show the growing impact of cities, crime and urban violence ... " Marianne Ignace, Overview (1 February 2007). Dr. Ignace is a German born anthropologist and linguist educated at Goettingen University. She is married to fellow linquist and Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace. The Skeetchestn Indian Band has a natural resources dept. that prepared an innovative plan in 2005: "Vision of Ecosystem Stewardship in the Deadman Watershed." See: Through the Eyes of Sk'lep.  

Secwepemc Territory was first crossed by the railroad in the late 1880s, a development that brought masses of settlers from the east. This devastating incursion by rail has continued ever since (right). Highway and road expansion culminated with completion of the Trans Canada Highway through Revelstoke in 1962. Gigantic industrial hydro dams and power generators like the 1984 Revelstoke dam (below) have wrecked havoc on Secwepemc fishing, hunting and berrying grounds and desecrated ancient burial sites.

Revelstoke dam, Columbia River. (Click for QuickTime)
Photo: Don Bain's Virtual Guidebook


Canadian Pacific Railway, Kamloops, 1937.
Photo: BC Archives

See virtual panoramas of Secwepemc Territory: Kamloops; Shuswap Lake; and Revelstoke (right). Despite the magnitude of the European invasion, the Secwepemc people have not assimilated nor have they lost their determination to defend and fight for their Aboriginal Title and Rights.

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Weyerhaeuser pulp mill, Kamloops, 2006.
Photo: David Eagles


Since colonization, most of the old growth forests of Secwepemc Territory have been destroyed by the transnational logging industry. BC's largest pulp and paper mill, owned by the voracious American logging company Weyerhaeuser, is located in Kamloops (right). This mill's effluence has poisoned the Thompson River and contaminated its fish with dioxin and other toxic waste products including sulfuric acid, chloroform and hydrogen sulfide. Despite its abysmal environmental record and huge corporate profits, Weyerhaeuser sought tax relief in 2006. For the impact of logging on First Nations, see a report by Indigenous Network on Economies & Trade: INET.


Railway and highway construction in Secwepemc Territory have desecrated ancient First Nations burial grounds. In 2004, human remains were dug up on two occasions at Prichard. Skeetchestn members occupied the site, where an ancient pithouse was also found, and vowed to remain to ensure no further disturbance. They gathered beside a campfire and unfurled a flag stating "unceded Secwepemc land." During the reburial ceremony, James Sauls sprinkled tobacco on the site as a sign of respect. Sauls, a 75 year old Neskonlith member, reminded his people: "There were pit houses all through here. Our ancestors lived by the river." Today, still without the government protection that is owed to places of aboriginal heritage, construction projects continue at Pritchard and other sites along the Canadian Pacific Railway and Trans Canada Highway (right).


Construction at Pritchard, 2007.
Photo: Canadian Pacific Railway

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Another threat to Secwepemc Territory is the destructive impact of mass industrial tourism. BC's pro development government is behind a rampant expansion of recreation resorts and a construction boom is taking place across BC in conjunction with the 2010 Winter Olympics. A ski and golf resort development worth $1 billion is underway on 500,000 acres of Mount MacKenzie near Revelstoke, in the eastern part of Secwepemc Territory. Further east on the Trans Canada Highway is the mega sized Kicking Horse Resort owned by the Dutch conglomerate Ballast Nedam (right). Ski resorts promote helicopter and snowcat skiing, destructive activities largely banned from Europe's Alps. These and all season resorts are an unsustainable energy wasting form of urban sprawl that ruin valuable alpine wilderness habitat.

Resorts in BC profit greatly from the government's murky selling or leasing of Crown land, which is often contested Indian land. This colonial style practice of land speculation - of making a fast buck on land that is either grabbed from the Crown or under First Nations land claims - is at best quasi legal. In protest, two indigenous defense camps have been founded. See subchapters: Sutikalh and Skwelkwek'welt.

The ski resort industry in BC serves an international market that is in part responsible for its unethical expansion. Lucrative development projects financed by transnational corporations such as Nippon, the Japanese owner of Sun Peaks Resort, are degrading and destroying the hunting and gathering grounds that have been stewarded for thousands of years by the indigenous Secwepemc people (right).


Kicking Horse Resort and ski runs.
Map: Kicking Horse Resort

Sun Peaks Resort and ski runs.
Map: Sun Peaks Resort

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Sun Peaks Resort construction, 2004.
Photo: Arthur Manuel

In 2000, to protest against the expansion of Sun Peaks Resort, Secwepemc grass roots activists established the Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre. Secwepemc leaders who have attended meetings here include Neskonlith Chief Arthur Anthony and North Thompson Chief Nathan Matthew (right). Many Sepwepemc have been arrested. No resolution to this volatile Aboriginal Title and Rights conflict is in sight.

Selling off contested Indian land as third party resort real estate is a government sanctioned denial of Aboriginal Title and Rights. Secwepemc activist Arthur Manuel says that Sun Peaks is an example of how contested Indian land is routinely stolen by unethical and underhanded strategies of government - big business. Read an excerpt of his condemnation of Canada's failure to provide justice for beleaguered communities such as his: Sun Peaks - Indian Land For Sale.

Skwelkwek'welt, 16 September 2004.
Photo: Arthur Manuel

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Remax protest, Sun Peaks, 8 April 2006.
Photo: Janice Billy


On 8 April 2006 the Secwepemc Native Youth Movement organized a protest demonstration at the Remax Real Estate office at Sun Peaks (left). The banner features an indigenous woman in handcuffs that are shaped in the five circles of the Olympic Games: "Protect Swelkwek'welt" and " Respect Aboriginal Title & Rights."

Resort development perpetuates colonial robbery: "We are poor not because our land is poor but because we have been dispossessed of our land and because Canada and the provinces have assumed 100% power over making laws over our land ... All revenue generated in Canada is earned from using our natural wealth and resources. We have never benefitted from this. All we have been given is the crumbs from the table of the federal and provincial governments" Sun Peaks - Indian Land For Sale.

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BC's crudely conceived Ministry of Tourism, Sports and the Arts announced in 2005 a new "All Seasons Resorts Division of Land and Water" based in Kamloops, home of Sun Peaks. This amounted to a provocative "business as usual" indication that the BC government will continue to privatize disputed Crown land in flagrant disregard of its own loudly proclaimed "New Relationship" with First Nations.

Traditionally the Secwepemc lived for part of the year in circular pit houses or "kekulis" as they were called (right). "The Shuswap people were nomadic. They travelled to where food was plenty and gathered for winter use. But when ... the government put us on the Indian reserves, they had to change their whole lifestyle. You had to adopt the new way of life by clearing land and plowing and planting the different types of food that was not a part of our culture. They were forced to do that" Mary Thomas, from an interview in 2000 (Aboriginal Multi Media Society).


Pit house, Secwepemc Heritage Park.
Photo: Bonnie Leonard (SNTC)

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Secwepemc archaeological sites date back some 5,000 years. They include pictographs at Mahood Lake in the traditional territory of the Canim Lake Band. "There are many land markers throughout the Secwepemc Nation. The markers were created by Coyote and the Creator to remind the Secwepemc of their responsibilities. The markers are reminders of how the Secwpemec must behave; while others mark out the territory of the Secwepemc," Secwepemc Ron Ignace, Balancing Rock (right). See also: Connecting Traditions (Secwepemc Nation); The Shuswap (1909) by James Teit and "Shuswap" by Marianne B. Ignace in the Handbook of North American Indians.

Pit house frame, Secwepemc Heritage Park.
Photo: Bonnie Leonard (SNTC)


"Balancing Rock," Savona, Skeetchestn.
Photo: Bonnie Leonard (SNTC)

The Secwepemc Heritage Park in Kamloops has reconstructed a number of "kekulis" (left), semi subterranean structures built of logs and covered with earth. The entry and exit of the pit house was through the smoke hole in the ceiling and it held fifteen to thirty persons, usually a single extended family. "Before the establishment of the reserve in 1877, our ancestors wintered in many pit house villages along both sides of Kamloops Lake, and for a distance below the outlet of the lake. During the spring, summer, and fall they would travel throughout their territory to gather important resources at critical times and places" Creation of the Skeetchestn Reserve.

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"Fort Kamloops." Painting by John Tod, c. 1846.
Photo: BC Archives


At the confluence of the two rivers known today as North and South Thompson is the ancient site of "Tk'emlups," a Secwepemc word meaning "meeting of the waters." It was pronounced as "Kamloops" by the Scottish fur traders who invaded in 1812 and founded Fort Kamloops. In 1826, this symbol of colonial authority was burned to the ground by indigenous warriors. The attacks continued and in 1841, the chief factor of the fort was killed by Kikoskin, a Secwepemc warrior, in retaliation for the killing of Chief Tranquille.

The Scottish fur trader John Tod took charge of Fort Kamloops in 1841. A painting by him shows Secwepemc people working in a field outside the fortified trading post (left). Often there were no food supplies for the winter and it was only because of the potato crops grown by the natives that Tod's men did not starve to death. See: Thompson's River Post (Royal BC Museum).

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Chief St. Paul with his wife and two daughters, 1865.
Photo: Archives Canada (C. Gentile)

Chief Lolo had a large family including some seven sons and four daughters. One of his daughters, Sophia Lolo, became the commonlaw wife of John Tod and had seven children with him. In 1848, Tod left Fort Kamloops and moved to Fort Victoria where he established a family home on 100 acres of land at Oak Bay, becoming the first settler on Vancouver Island. In 1851 Tod was nominated to the first Legislative Council of the new British colony. In 1863, when he received word that his wife in Britain had passed away, Tod married Sophia Lolo. The studio portrait of Sophia taken almost 30 years later shows what a remarkable woman she must have been to cope with Victoria's racist colonial society (right).

Prior to the 1862 outbreak of smallpox, the Secwepemc population was about 7,000 to 9,000. The epidemic was catastrophic and wiped out many communities, leaving those few that survived greatly reduced in size.


Jean Baptist St. Paul (1798 - 1868), known also as Chief Lolo, was said to be the "most celebrated Indian Chief in British North America." A photo of Chief Lolo with his wife and two daughters was taken at Fort Kamloops in 1865 (left). Chief Lolo was a respected trader and Indian spokesperson. British naval officer Richard Charles Mayne was grateful to be guided by him in 1859, from Fort Kamloops to Pavillion, and he describes Chief Lolo at length and with much praise in his 1862 travel narrative: Four Years in British Columbia.

"Mrs. John Tod, nee Sophia Lolo," 1890.
Photo: BC Archives (S. Spencer)

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Unidentified photo, c. 1867.
Photo: Vancouver City Archives

In an unidentified photo (above) we can see Alkali Lake Chief Quil - Quailse, on the far left and Williams Lake Chief William on the far right. The chiefs in the Dally photo on the right, likely also taken in 1867 at the same occasion are not identified. The chief in the centre, who may be Soda Creek Chief Kam - eo - saltze, is holding a Semour malacca staff with a cast silver head, the type ordered from British India by the colonial authories to present to "friendly" aboriginal chiefs in BC as a sign of respect for their sovereignty.

The Soda Creek Indian Band is also known by its Sewwepemc name: Xatsu'll (pronounced hat - shul), which means "on the cliff where the bubbling water comes out." Xatsu'll chiefs mounted a determined fight against the land claims posted by a settler in 1869. The rising tension was noted by the district missionary: "I already see that the Indians of Soda Creek would sooner risk their lives than abandon their native soil" (Rev. McGucking, 12 May 1868).


The photographer Frederick Dally accompanied the gold miners who flooded into the Interior of BC to Barkerville. On his way, he stopped at the new capital of BC, named New Westminster by Queen Victoria in 1859, where he took a formal photo of a group of Swecwemc and St'át'imc chiefs on 24 May 1867 to mark the colonial celebration of the Queen's birthday. An unidentified photo (left) was likely taken by Dally at the same occasion.

Interior Salish chiefs, 1867.
Photo: BC Archives (F. Dally)

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"Goldmining Asturias Claim," Cariboo, 1867.
Photo: Archives Canada (F. Dally)


"The area around Soda Creek was squatted upon by many of the Europeans who came looking for gold. Land belonging to Xatsu'll was claimed by settlers with the approval of white governments and their various bureaucracies who pretended to be looking after the interests of Xatsu'll. Leaders of Xatsu'll tried in vain to get the government to settle land claims in an honorable way. The people of Xatsu'll, weakened by disease and other European vices, watched helplessly as the European society took control of their land, their resources and their lives" Xatsu'll First Nation.

A photo by Dally of the "Asturias" goldmine (left) in the Cariboo shows the ecological devastation caused by this sort of activity. Two small figures are seen amidst a landscape of dead trees and a creekbed ruined by hydrolic blasting and poisoned by the arsenic based extraction process.

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Archaeological evidence of ancient human habitation in the Soda Creek region of the Cariboo has been carbon dated at approximately 4,300 years old. Yet in 1865 the colonial governor set up the Soda Creek Indian Reserve (below). "The original reserve was 22 miles long and 8 miles wide. Settlers wanted the land and over a number of years the people of Xatsu'll ended up with one mile square on a rocky hillside, for all their needs. Deals made on behalf of the Xatsu'll usually ended up far more beneficial for those wanting what little Xatsu'll had left. These deals were usually made without the knowledge or understanding of the people of Xatsu'll" Xatsu'll First Nation. In 1901 a government surveyor photographed an unnamed Indian chief at the "Soda Creek Rancheri" (right).

"The history of the intrusion of white authorities upon the lives of Xatsu'll is not one to be proud of, yet still continues today. This intrusion affected every area of the native people's lives from birth to death. Traditional native names were changed for the convenience of the non natives. If a native person left a will the government can override it if they did not agree with it. There isn't a single aspect of the lives of the Xatsu'll which remains untouched by governments who assume authority and all too often abuse it" Xatsu'll First Nation.

"Soda Creek Indian Reserve," 25 July 1914.
Photo: BC Archives


"Indian Chief at Soda Creek Rancherie," 1901.
Photo: BC Archives (F. Swannell)

"Prime examples of this abuse of authority are the trespasses on Xatsu'll by BC Rail, BC Hydro, BC Telephone, Westcoast Transmission (BC Gas), and the BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways among many others."

"Xatsu'll got very little, and in some cases no compensation, for the transportation and utility corridors negotiated on their behalf by the Federal government. For the still existing trespasses and the extraction of the many renewable and non - renewable resources, Xatsu'll has received nothing. This is the same for all other First Nations communities" Xatsu'll First Nation.

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"Kamloops Indians performing," 1901.
Photo: BC Archives

Religious tableaux of the crucifiction and other scenes were produced by the Catholic Mission in Kamloops and staged at the Kamloops Indian Reserve in 1901. Secwepemc actors who performed in the living tableaux were the subject of many church taken devotional photos (above and right).


"Indians at Kamloops performing," 1901.
Photo: BC Archives

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The living tableaux of Biblical scenes were designed as conversion aides. As theatrical productions, they were viewed by Secwepemc people who travelled from neighbouring reserves, some of whom were photographed by the Catholic Mission as evidence of their popularity (left). In a statement of Euro Christian triumphalism, the Catholic authorities boasted in 1912: "Heathenism and old custom are now extinct, the entire tribe being civilized and officially reported Catholic ... In addition to the flourishing Oblate mission at Williams Lake, another under the same auspices at Kamloops is equally successful ... As a rule they are moral" Catholic Encyclopedia.

In contrast were the words of the chiefs: "What have we received for our good faith, friendliness and patience? Gradually as the whites of this country became more and more powerful and we less and less powerful, they little by little changed their policy towards us and commenced to put restrictions on us. Their governments have taken every advantage of our friendliness, weakness and ignorance to impose on us in every way. They treat us as subjects without any agreement to that effect and force their laws on us without our consent, and irrespective of whether they are good for us or not" Memorial to Sir Wilfred Laurier.


"Visitors to an Indian passion play," c. 1901.
Photo: BC Archives

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On 25 August 1910 First Nations chiefs signed a proclamation to the prime minister of Canada, Sir Wilfred Laurier, demanding that their land rights be settled. They included, from left: Kamloops Chief Louis; Bonaparte Chief Basil David; and Douglas Lake Chief  John Chelahitsa (right). This important historical document spells out the principles that remain at the core of First Nations land issues today. See: Memorial to Sir Wilfred Laurier.

Born in 1828, Louis XlExlexkEn (below) was chief of the Kamloops Indian Band from 1855 until his death in 1915. He was a widely recognized and respected leader who testified at the McKenna McBride Commission. Ethnologist Marius Barbeau noted that the cheif's name had several variations and spellings: Louis Gleghleghken (xlexxle'yken); XlExlexkEn, Louis (also Gleghleghken, XlExxlExkEn and Xilextexken).

"All that I know is, that
a long time ago we
made arrangements to
build a school on this
reserve, and it was
supposed to be a
Catholic School, and
we built one.
It is there now."

"I expected to see my
people improve when
they first went to the
Industrial School, but
I have not seen
anything of it."

"When they come out
from school they don't
seem to have
improved much."

Kamloops Indian Band
Chief Louis,
McKenna Report, 1914.


XlExlexkEn (1828 - 1855)
Kamloops Chief Louis
Photo: M. Barbeau, 1912


Memorial to Sir WIlfred Laurier, 25 August 1910.
Photo: Kamloops Museum and Archives

One of the questions that Chief Louis (left) was asked by government officials during his testimony at the McKenna McBride Commission in 1914 was whether he could write, to which he gave the eloquent reply: " I write in my heart only."

Another of the Secwepemc chiefs who signed the 1911 Memorial was Bonaparte Chief Basil David (below left). In 1906 Chief David made the long and arduous journey to London to assert the indigenous land rights of his Secwepemc people to Britain's King Edward together with Chief Joe Capilano (Squamish First Nation) and Chief Chillihitza (Okanagan First Nation). Again in 1916 Chief David joined a delegation of First Nations chiefs to Ottawa to protest against the punitive policies of the Department of Indian Affairs.

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"As I told you, my  
children's land is short,  
and I will depend upon  
you Commissioners to  
help me all you can  
in that way ... "  

"You know  
our grievances include  
everything - land, deer,  
and game of all kinds."  

"They are all included  
in this question."  

Bonaparte Indian Band  
Chief Basil David,  
McKenna Report, 1914  

"I might say quite
a lot, but when it comes
to the fine point, I am
short of land and it is
hard to get water."

"We are not the only
ones here that have
the same grievance, but
mostly all the Indians all
over this part have the
same grievance."

Chief Basil David
Photo: J. Teit, 1916

Chief Basil David
Photo: J. Teit, 1916


"A Bonaparte Indian," 1864.

The 1864 photo "A Bonaparte Indian" (above) was taken in the early BC gold rush by C. Gentile. The man is not identified, but he is likely a chief. It was originally in a collection owned by the despised Irish settler Peter O'Reilly, the first colonial enforcer of the punitive Indian Act reserve system as well as the first commissioner of gold.

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Bonaparte Indian Reserve, 1968.
Photo: David Plowden


For over a century the Bonaparte people saw their lands invaded and plundered by a raft of miners, ranchers, loggers and settlers. None of the huge profits were shared with the communities of the Bonaparte Indian Band which became increasingly impoverished as the people were progressively disinherited of their land and natural resources. The reserve system imposed on First Nations did not improve their living conditions. Homes on the Bonaparte Indian Reserve (left) had no heating, electricity, running water, plumbing or insulation until the late 1950s. When the 86 year old elder Jimmy Morgan lost his house to a fire in 1973, it triggered the Cache Creek blockade during which armed indigenous activists stopped commercial traffic on Highway 97 through the Bonaparte Indian Reserve for six weeks and demanded a $5 toll from all vechicle drivers as a compensation for the appalling housing conditions on the Reserve.

The 1973 Cache Creek blockade is said to have solidified the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Canada: "The History, Achievements and Legacy of AIM," Jeremy Schneider, Indian Nation (1976).

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Bonaparte Chief Mike Retasket (right) is a long time elected First Nations leader and a grass roots environmental activist who is a founding member of First Nations Forestry Council. Among the most contested environmental issues in his community is the development of Hat Creek for coalbed methane gas which he opposed. Another is the shameful yearly dumping of 500,000 million tons of Vancouver's garbage in Cache Creek. To stop contaminated poultry stock from being dumped in 2004, Chief Retasket took part in a blockade. In 2003 the Bonaparte Indian Band rejected the proposal for a new landfill site at the Ashcroft Ranch near Cache Creek but the issue remains unresolved a year before the site is due to open in 2008. See: Aboriginal Comments.

Bonaparte Chief Mike Retasket, 2000.
Photo: Philipp Kuechler


Bonaparte Chief Mike Retasket, 2000.
Photo: Philipp Kuechler

In 2000 Bonaparte Chief Mike Restasket took part in an indigenous community ecoforestry project. He gave visiting German biologist Philipp Kuechler a tour of the project (left). See the German "Naturschatz" presentation on the history of clearcutting in BC: Evolution der Kahlschlaege.

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Adams River Lumber Company, Chase, c. 1920.
Photo: British Columbia Archives

Secwepemc Territory was plundered of its old growth forests beginning in 1866 when the first miners arrived and burned whole watersheds. Huge amounts of prime timber were used for railway development in the 1880s, e.g. for massive trestles over steep mountain canyons and gullies. By 1906, thirteen sawmills were in operation just to supply the booming new railroad centre of Revelstoke. Before it shut down in 1925, Adams River Lumber Co. felled countless ancient cedars (right) and destroyed whole forests up to 100 meters from the banks of Adams River and shores of Adams Lake. See photos: Loaded Train, Three Level Flume, Brennan Flume, Sawmill, and Lumber Yard. In 1940, a new sawmill was set up at Adams Lake. In 1971 it was bought by Interfor, the largest lumber products company in the Pacific Northwest. Today the ancient Inland Rainforest continues to be destroyed by logging and is in danger of extermination. Read a scientific paper on the rich and irreplaceable biodiversity that is at risk: Journal of Biogeography.


Adams Lake, Little Shuswap and Neskonlith reserves 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 started the Adams River Lumber Co. on the river in the centre of the small native community which had previously been known as "Shuswap,"  the English word for Secwepemc (left).

"Felling Cedar." Adams River Lumber Co., 1920.
Photo: BC Archives

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"It is not on our reserve
only that our hard
feelings commence;
it is for land outside the
reserves where the
whitemen have
stopped us."

"They stopped us from
getting deer and birds,
and stopped us fishing."

"You all know your
selves that we were
born here and always
lived here,
on this land here."

"You see your
own selves as to how
we love our land."

Little Shuswap Lake
Indian Band
Chief Francois Selpaghen,
McKenna Report, 1914.


Chief Francois Selpaghen
Photo: E. Sapir, 1912


A photograph of Secwepemc Chief Francoise Selpaghen (Little Shuswap Indian Band) was taken by ethnologist Edward Sapir in 1912 (left). This was just after Chief Selpaghen had signed the Memorial to Frank Oliver: "Our tribal territories which we have held from time immemorial, often at cost of blood, are ours no longer ... We are all beggars, and landless in our own country ... What promises made to us when the first whites came to this country have been broken. Many of us were driven off our places where we had lived and camped because these spots were desirable for agriculture, and the Government wanted them for white settlers. This was done without agreement with us, and we received no compensation" Memorial to Frank Oliver.

Chief Selpaghen called for the government of Canada "to do what is right" and "to stand up for us" when he testified in 1914 to the McKenna McBride Commission: "We all want to work our land to good advantage, and we are short as to our means and knowledge of working the land."


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.

An aerial photo of the Interfor sawmill at Adams Lake (right) shows the distinct rusty colour of red cedar in the lumber yard and log booms. Little of the huge profits from logging the old growth forests were shared with the Secwepemc people. Nor have Secwepemc burial grounds been respected. In 1995 a blockade was set up to protest the desecration of graves uncovered by the development of a 60 unit RV park on the Adams Lake Indian Reserve.


Aerial view of Adams Lake Sawmill.
Photo: Thompson Nicola Film Commission

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Adams River salmon run, 2004.
Photo: Andy Zuest

Secwepemc George Manuel was a leader of the international indigenous rights movement (right). Among his many positions, he was chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band, president of both the National Indian Brotherhood, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and founder of the international World Council of Indigenous Peoples. During his some three decades of political and indigenous activism, Manuel received many honours including nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1981 he was appointed Grand Chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of BC in 1983, and in 1986 he received the Order of Canada. See: George Manual Biography (Land of the Secwepemc); George Manuel (Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs); and the George Manuel Memorial Library.


Adams River is North America's greatest sockeye salmon run (left): Adams River Salmon Society. Despite the priceless value of this ecological treasure of biodiversity, the Adams River watershed has been severely degraded by the logging industry. The mismanagement of Secwepemc forest and water resources resulted not only in the destruction of important Aboriginal fisheries but also of water resources needed for irrigation and agriculture on Secwepemc reserves.

Inadequate reserve sizes and the increasing number of settlers were issues raised in 1914 by Neskonlith Chief William Pierrish and Kamloops Chief Louis at the McKenna Commission. The pressing problem of water shortages for raising crops and water conflicts with neighboring settlers caused Chief Louis to declare: "The white man has no right to take any of it." On the history of Secwepemc water rights struggles, see the essay by Kenichi Matsui: White Man Has No Right.

Secwepemc George Manuel.
Photo: George Manuel Institute

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Kamloops Residential School, c. 1920.
Photo: BC Archives

In his 1974 book "Fourth World: An Indian Reality," George Manuel coined the expression "Fourth World" to describe the situation of indigenous peoples "who today are completely or partly deprived of the right to their own territories and its riches." The impoverished living conditions on the Kamloops Indian Reserve are clear in the photo on the right, taken in 1940. For the Secwepemc people, the development of their territory by settler society resulted in environmental destruction with no sharing of the wealth.


George Manuel attended the notorious Kamloops Residential School until he contracted tuberculosis at age 12 (left). Of his childhood, he said: "The thing that I remember of my life, our lives I should say, is the poverty. See the Assembly of First Nations: History of Indian Residential Schools.

"Village street on the reserve," Kamloops, 1940.
Photo: BC Archives

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"Shuswap Indians drying salmon," c. 1883.
Photo: Archives Canada

Salmon is the most vital food source for the Secwepemc people. A c. 1883 photo of a fish camp shows how the salmon harvest was dried for winter supplies and trading on Shuswap Lake (above). An engraving from 1881 illustrates how the salmon were cached high in the branches of large trees (right). The Secwepemc were accomplished fishers who used sophisticated harpoons, weirs and traps and their traditional fisheries were sustainable, providing sustenance for generation after generation.

As a result of colonization and industrial development, traditional salmon fisheries were severely impacted. One especially tragic example occurred in 1941 when the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington was completed, causing the ruination of over 1,000 miles of spawning grounds in the Upper Columbia Basin.


"Indian Salmon Cache." Engraving.
Source: Canadian Pictures, 1881

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"Indian encampment on the Thompson River," c. 1870.
Photo: Archives Canada (B. Baltzly)


An early photograph of the nomadic Secwepemc people shows a group camped on the Thompson River (left). It was taken in 1870 by one of the first colonial surveyers to invade Secwepemc Territory. At the same time that the settlement of Secwepemc Territory was causing widespread ecological devastation and diminishing the salmon stocks, Canada's Department of Fisheries was increasingly restricting the aboriginal right to fish. To protect their Thompson River coho fishery, the Nesonlith and Adams Lake Indian Bands took legal action in 1997, 1999 and 2003 against the government. They argued that sport fishing by non aboriginals was allowed yet there were not enough coho salmon to support the food, social and ceremonial requirements of the aboriginal peoples, and further, to meet conservation needs.

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"I will not say much to
you - only a few words.
This place where I am
now, is my own place."

"I am glad now to have
the chance to speak on
my land truly, because
it is my own land."

"I cannot let my land go.
I want to say also one
word about the laws
of this Country. I want to
get the rights of the law
to administrate my own
reserve. I have told you
before I would not say
much and that is all
I have to say."

Salmon Arm Indian Band
Chief Clement Arnous,
McKenna Report, 1914.

Chief Clement Arnous
Photo: J. Teit, 1916


On 10 May 1911, a Memorial was prepared to the Minister of the Interior and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. It was signed by 68 First Nations chiefs, acting chiefs and designated indigenous representatives including 18 Secwepemc leaders: "You know how the BC government has laid claim to all our tribal territories, and has practically taken possession of same without treaty and without payment. You know how they also claim the reservations, nominally set apart for us" Memorial to Frank Oliver.

" ... they let us use a few inferior spots of our own country to live on, and say we ought to be grateful to them ... We ask is this the brotherly help that was promised us in early days, or is it their compensation to us for the spoliation of our country, stealing of our lands, water, timber, pastures, our game, fish, roots, fruits, etc, and the introduction of diseases, poverty, hard labor, jails, unsuitable laws, whisky, and ever so many other things injurious to us?" Memorial to Frank Oliver.

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Neskonlith ethnobotanist and elder Mary Thomas was born and raised in Salmon Arm (right) and she is much respected for her traditional botanical knowledge. See: Mary Thomas (National Aboriginal Achievement Awards). She remembers harvesting as a child: "When everything started getting ripe, the people would move and make camps like little shelters. They would get up early in the morning and pick berries and dig roots ... My mother used to tell me that there were so many soapberries; enough for everyone. Now we don't see very much of them anymore" Land of the Secwepemc.

The Secwepemc Ethnobotanical Gardens were created in 1999 "to promote an understanding of Secwepemc language, culture and use of native plants." Brown - eyed susan (Gaillardia aristata) is a native plant (below) called "sqlelten re ckwtut'stens" in Secwepemc, meaning "little salmon eyes," and it was used as a dandruff shampoo.

"Little Salmon Eyes" (Gaillardia aristata).
"sqlelten re ckwtut'stens"


Neskonlith elder Mary Thomas.
Photo: Ducks Unlimited

"Along with fishing and hunting, Secwepemc people relied heavily on plants for food, for medicines, and for tools and implements. Plant knowledge continues to be an essential part of Secwepemc cultural knowledge and is communicated through traditional stories, place names, beliefs and values. Secwepemc Territory is ecologically diverse and contains a great range and variety of plants at different locations, elevations and seasons throughout the year" Secwepemc Ethnobotanical Gardens.

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