ORIGINS OF A PEOPLE IN THIS REGION
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The first traces of a people living in the Fraser Valley date from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. S'ólh Téméxw, is the Halkomelem word the people use to refer to their traditional territory. These early inhabitants of the area were highly mobile hunter-gatherers. There is archeological evidence of a settlement in the lower Fraser Canyon (called "the Milliken site") and a seasonal encampment ("the Glenrose Cannery site") near the mouth of the Fraser River. Remains of this latter campsite show that in spring and early summer they came here to hunt land and sea mammals, such as deer, elk, and seals and, to a lesser extent, fish for salmon, stickleback, eulachon, and sturgeon and gather shellfish. Their social structure was egalitarian and family-based. Their livelihood depended on their success at harvesting the resources of the land and the rivers through fishing, foraging and hunting.
Stó:lō elders describe their connection to the land in the statement "we have always been here." They tell of their arrival in S'ólh Téméxw as Tel Swayel ("sky-borne" people) and through the transformations of ancestral animals and fish such as the beaver, mountain goat, and sturgeon. Xexá:ls (transformers) fixed the world and the people and animals in it, creating the present landscape. As Carlson notes:
The Stó:lō walk simultaneously through both spiritual and physical realms of this landscape, connected to the Creator through the land itself as transformed by Xexá:ls
Prehistory and Archeology
There is a continuous record of occupation of S'ólh Téméxw by Aboriginal people dating from the early Holocene period, 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. Two archeological sites referred to in the Origins section are well documented. Additional archeological evidence from the early period has been found throughout the region, including sites at Stave Lake, Coquitlam Lake and Fort Langley.
Many more sites exist that date from the middle Holocene period (c. 5,500-3,000 years ago). Tools found indicate considerable continuity with the early period. One striking feature of this period is the introduction of permanent house sites, showing evidence of cultural transmission from a nomadic to a more sedentary lifestyle between 5,000 to 4,000 years ago. Characteristic of this period were decorative and sculpted stone items, an increasingly complex relationship with the environment and a more stable and increasingly complex culture. The now extinct Coast Salish wooley dog appeared for the first time during this period.
Among the oldest archaeological digs in Canada is Xá:ytem, at Hatzic, just east of Mission. Initial work on a suburban housing project around a transformer stone aroused the interests of Stó:lō archaeologist Gordon Mohs and the land eventually was transferred to Stó:lō governance for heritage purposes. The focus of the site is a large transformer stone which bears the name Xá:ytem, which has also come to be used for the ancient village site that has been excavated in the surrounding field. There are two major eras found in the dig, one 3000BP the other from 5000-9000BP . Both indicate posthole and timber-frame construction and advanced social and economic life, eventually covered by flooding and sediment during the ongoing evolution of the Fraser delta.
Around Harrison Bay, near Chehalis, a group of structures known variously as the Fraser Valley Pyramids or Scowlitz Mounds are currently the subject of investigation by a joint task force of the Scowlitz First Nation and archaologists. Little is known about the mounds, which appear to be burial mounds and which contain timber structures to sustain the weight of the mound. Because they are distinct from any other structures anywhere else in the region, it is not assumed that the people who made them were necessarily forebears of the Sto:lo peoples.
This period extends from 3,000 years ago to first contact with European people. New forms of groundstone technology, including knives, points, hand mauls, chisels and adze blades, are evidence of an increasingly specialized society evolving during this period. Social class distinctions were accompanied by changing house forms that indicated expanding households. Warfare became increasingly widespread.
Contact with Europeans
Although Captains Jose Maria Narvaez of Spain and George Vancouver of England explored the Georgia Strait in 1791 and 1792, respectively, they did not reach the Fraser River or Stó:lō territory. The first point of contact between the Stó:lō and Europeans came indirectly, through disease.
A smallpox epidemic struck the Stó:lō in late 1782, arriving through inter-community exchange networks, likely spreading north from Mexico. It is estimated that the epidemic killed two thirds of the Stó:lō people within six weeks. Those that survived were likely to have been struck with blindness just as hunting season was to begin, only compounding the devastation. Later, however, their close contact with Europeans would lessen the destructive power of the disease on the Stó:lō . In 1862, the effects of a smallpox outbreak on the Stó:lō were limited in comparison with northern indigenous people, because of their access to the vaccine. Although deadly Smallpox epidemics would return at least once more (in 1862 and possibly in 1824), it was, however, only one of a number of serious diseases that would strike the region. Measels, mumps, tuberculosis, influenza and venereal diseases would further ravage the Stó:lō population.
Simon Fraser and Fort Langley
The 1782 epidemic was soon followed by direct, face-to-face contact with Europeans. The first European to explore the region from overland was Simon Fraser who travelled down the Fraser River in 1808. Hudson's Bay Company posts Fort Langley (established in 1827) and Fort Yale (1848) brought tremendous change to the relationships of the St¨®:l¨ with each other and with the land. Although these HBC posts were built with the fur trade in mind, trade in salmon soon took over as primary item of exchange. Between 1830 and 1849, Fort Langley's purchases of salmon increased from 200 barrels to 2610 barrels.
Stó:lō people fishing on the Fraser River with dipnets.
Watersheds were the basis for the relationship between Coast Salish towns and villages (commonly called "tribes"). Thus, a central theme in the culture of the Stó:lō is salmon fishing. The various tribes fished on the Fraser River and its tributaries, including the Chilliwack and the Harrison. The life of the people was profoundly influenced by the life cycle of the salmon. Ceremonies such as the First Salmon ceremony, performed when the first fish was caught each year, reflected its importance in Stó:lō culture.
Stó:lō society was organized into classes: the sí:yá:m (or upper classes), the ordinary people, and the slaves. A person's family status was quite important in determining their role within Stó:lō society, and within longhouse ceremonies, though this has faded over time. Slaves may have been treated relatively well, but were not permitted to eat with others at the Longhouse fire. They were primarily responsible for menial tasks such as gathering food or firewood. The actual use of slaves died out long ago, though the memory of which families descend from slaves may continue.
The Síyá:m (or leader) was the most powerful member of each family, while the best hunter was named the Tewit to lead during the hunting season. The Grand Chief, a title which originated much later, is known as the Yewal Síyá:m
Housing and shelter
The primary shelter for the Stó:lō people was in the form of a longhouse. Although some modern longhouses were built with gabled roofs, most Stó:lō longhouses were built with a single flat but slanted roof, similar to the Xá:ytem Longhouse.[ Entire extended families would live in a longhouse, and the structure could be extended as the family expanded. Pit houses (or Quiggly hole houses) were also used, though generations earlier.
Although river and lake canoes were built within Stó:lō , larger ocean-going canoes were primarily acquired through trade with indigenous people of the coast and Vancouver island. In the late 1800s, when waterways were increasingly damned or blocked, the emphasis on water transport was replaced first by horse and buggy, then by train and automobile.
Carlson, Keith Thor (ed.) (2001). A Stó:lō -Coast Salish Historical Atlas. Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-5505-4812-3.
Carlson, Keith Thor (ed.) (1997). You Are Asked to Witness: The Stó:lō in Canada's Pacific Coast History. Chilliwack, BC: St¨®:l¨ Heritage Trust. ISBN 0-9681577-0-X.
Wells, Oliver N. 1987. The Chilliwacks and Their Neighbors. Edited by Ralph Maud, Brent Galloway and Marie Wheeden. Vancouver: Talonbooks.