Archeological evidence of the Secwepemc civilization at Soda Creek, has been dated to 4,000 BC. There have been recent unsubstantiated discoveries of items that may prove to be older. It’s a fact that the Secwepemc people, who inhabited this land before colonial contact, had a system of government, trade, justice and more. The culture has been established over millennia. The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw have been stewards of the land, through the centuries. The seasons of the year were very important. Family’s knew the woods and the fields, the plants and the animals. The deep connection with nature, guided the Secwepemc. The land belonged to everyone.
In 1763, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation stating Indians could not be molested or disturbed in the possession of their land.
The Secwepemc nations first contact with colonial settlers, was with French trappers, who in the late 1700’s began to exploit the rich, diverse hunting, trapping and fishing resources. These first European individuals came to rely on the experience and knowledge of the local people, to survive through the seasons in this ancient land. Those with experience interacting with the new visitors, came to call them the ‘real whites’.
Disease began to sweep aside whole villages and families. In 1862 the Northern Secwepemc are virtually wiped out by smallpox. Six bands were left, with some remaining members joining neighbouring nations to survive.
Then beginning in 1868 miners from the all over Canada and the United States, began looking for gold. Secwepemc Chief Tomaah and Carrier Baptiste, guide American miner Peter Dunleavey to the first gold strike in the Cariboo, at Horsefly.
In 1879 Chief William of the Williams Lake Band, presents his letter to the government which says, “The white men have taken all the land and all the fish. A vast country was ours. It is all gone.” That year the T’exelc Chief William travelled to New Westminster with other leaders, to begin treaty talks with the Colonial Government of BC.
The Canadian government enacted several pieces of legislation like the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, that were combined with other legislation, into the Indian Act in 1887, which authorizes the Canadian federal government to regulate and administer the affairs and day-to-day lives of registered Indians and reserve communities.
“The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.” – John A Macdonald, 1887
Secwepemc Chiefs gathered at Spences Bridge with the Chiefs and leaders from Interior Nations in July of 1910, to dictate a letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier. In part it said; “The real whites we found were good people. We could depend on their word, and we trusted and respected them. They did not interfere with us nor attempt to break up our tribal organizations, laws and customs. They did not try to force their conceptions of things on us to our harm. Nor did they stop us from catching fish, hunting, etc. They never tried to steal or appropriate our country, nor take our food and life from us. They acknowledged our ownership of the country, and treated our chiefs as men.” (Memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1910)
The systematic assimilation of all First Nations people in Canada was underway. The residential school system became law. Indian agents could withhold services from anyone they thought might be undesirable. Families were torn apart, language and culture were lost, and the connection to the land was severed for Secwepemc people.
The Northern Shuswap Tribal Council has it’s roots in the first collective of First Nations that formed the Cariboo Tribal Council in 1971. It was made up of six Ts’ilqot’in, four Carrier and five Secwepemc bands. In the 1980’s the Chilcotin and Carrier tribal groups formed their own Tribal Councils.
In May 1992, the Cariboo Tribal Council Chief present BC Premier Mike Harcourt and his cabinet at the 108 Mile Resort, with a Statement of Intent, to negotiate a treaty. The Cariboo Tribal Council changed its name to the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council in 2006.
Today, the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC) is made up of four Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw communities (NStQ), Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake), Stswecem’c-Xgat’tem (Canoe-Dog Creek), Xat’sūll-Cm’etem (Soda-Deep Creek) and T’exelc (Williams Lake).
Chief William's Statement - 1879
I am an Indian Chief and my people are threatened by starvation. The white men have taken all the land and all the fish. A vast country was ours. It is all gone. The noise of the threshing machine and the wagon has frightened the deer and the beaver. We have nothing to eat. My people are sick. My young men are angry. All the Indians from Canoe Creek to the headwaters of the Fraser Say:
“William is an old woman”
I am old and feeble and my authority diminishes every day. I am sorely puzzled. I do not know what I say next week when the chiefs are assembled in a council. A war with the white man will end in our destruction, but death in war is not so bad as death by starvation.
The land on which my people lived for five hundred years was taken by a white man. He has crops of wheat and herds of cattle. We have nothing, not an acre. Another white man has enclosed the graves in which the bones of our fathers rest and we may live to see their bodies turned over by his plough. Any white man can take three hundred and twenty acres of our land and the Indians cannot touch an acre.
Her majesty sent me a coat, two ploughs and some turnip seed. The coat will not keep away the hunger, the ploughs are idle and the seed is useless because we have no land.
All our people are willing to work because they know they must work like the white man or die. They work for the white man. Mr. Haines was a good friend. He would not have a white man if he could get an Indian. My young men can plough and mow and cut corn with a cradle.
Now, what I want to say is this: THERE WILL BE TROUBLE, soon.
The whites have taken all the salmon and all the land, and my people will not starve in peace. Good friends to the Indian say that Her Majesty
loves her Indians subjects and will do justice.
Justice is no use for a dead Indian.
They say: “Mr. Sproat is coming to give you land.”
We hear he is a very good man but he has no horse. He was at Hope last June and he has not arrived here. Her Majesty ought to give him a horse and let justice come fast to the starving Indians. Land, land, a little of our own land, that is all we ask from her Majesty. If we had the deer and the salmon we could live by hunting and fishing.
We have nothing now and here comes the cold and the snow. We can make fires to make people warm - that is what we can do. Wood will burn.
We are not stones.
- Chief William of the Williams Lake Indian Band, 1879