We are the Scw’exmx, the people of the creeks. Our language and our customs are of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, one of the Interior Salish Nations that have lived for thousands of years along the Thompson and Nicola rivers in the Southern Interior of British Columbia.
Our presence in our ancestral lands dates back thousands of years to sptákwelh, the Creation period when Coyote, Bear, Owl, and the other Transformers inhabited and shaped these lands. When sly Coyote freed the salmon from their trap at the mouth of the Fraser River, he sent them all the way up to the Thompson and its tributaries where we have fished them ever since. In addition to salmon and freshwater fish, we gathered roots, berries and wild plants, and hunted game. We have been a mobile people since long before the encroachment of the railroad and highways, and travelled and traded throughout our traditional territory and beyond.
We have traditionally shared this region with our Salish neighbors to the east, the Spaxomin Okanagan. It was their leader Hwistesmetxe’qen, called Nicolas by French fur traders of the early 1800s, from whom the name of the Nicola Valley comes from. A third people, the Athapaskan-speaking Stuwix, were late arrivals to the Nicola Valley, and lived here as a distinct culture until the mid-nineteenth century. Our alliances, exchanges and intermarriages with our neighbors over the centuries have made us a strong and diverse community.
European colonization brought about the removal of our people from their traditional settlements. We lived in domed pit houses, called s7istkn, in villages ranging in size from just a few families to several hundred residents. Village and band autonomy was strongly valued, and chiefs were recognized on the basis of achievement or heredity. We actively pursued peaceful means in resolving issues between groups, and placed great weight on qualities of modesty and respect.
Similarly, we were stewards of the lands and waters that nourished us, and treated them with reverence. We took only what was needed, and were experts in the uses of plants and animals. We were also careful and sophisticated managers of our environment, using regular controlled burning to clear brush and produce abundant berries and roots for harvesting.
As a result of the Stevens Treaty of 1846 between Britain and the United States, the traditional territory of the Nla’kapamux was divided between the two countries. However, we still interact with our brothers and sisters in the State of Washington.
The discovery of gold in our territory in 1858 brought speculators and a sudden interest in our land. A smallpox epidemic in 1862 resulted in the deaths of a great number of our people. During this period of struggle and vulnerability we saw much of the land to which we had traditionally laid claim to pre-empted by settlers and other governments.
Without a treaty in place, we became active in the fight for indigenous land rights. We joined the Allied Tribes of BC and were involved in the creation of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs in 1969. With the formation of the Nicola Valley Indian Administration in 1974 , we began to take control of our own affairs. In 1975, the government’s unsanctioned appropriation of our land to widen the highway near Shulus resulted in nearly two decades of negotiation and litigation before we arrived at a settlement.