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 History & Culture 

Kwikwetlem culture is  similar to other Aboriginal people, especially other St:l and Northwest Coast groups, we are a unique people with specific cultural traditions and political interests unlike anyone else's. We take our name from the red fish that historically travelled up the Coquitlam River. Kwikwetlem means "Red Fish Up The River". Our elders' stories explain that we have always been here. Archaeology confirms continuous occupation of our traditional territory for at least 9,000 years, since the last ice age.

Quote from St:l Nation Resource Department:

"X:ls,the three sons and daughter of Red Headed Wood Pecker and Black Bear, came into the world to make it right. They traveled through as St:l territory transforming people and things into their permanent state. At each village X:ls visited, they transformed people into what are now referred to as resources: salmon; sturgeon; beaver; stones; mountains; trees; etc. These resources were once people and are therefore still considered to be our relatives. The original people's life force, or shxweli, still exists within them. ("X:ls: pronounced "kals" but the "k" has the back of the throat gluteral sound.)

The following narratives are some of the many accounts about X:ls which describe some of these transformations: In the beginning, man appeared at different places, always on a river or the sea. How or why he appeared no one knows. The earth existed before him, and birds and animals. Afterwards X:ls came. Who he was, whence he came, and whither he went, no one knows. He changed people in many different places to rocks, why no one knows. (St:lo Culture - Ideas of Prehistory and Changing Cultural Relationships to the Land and Environment . For Comparative Civilization 12, Social Studies 10, Science & Technology 11. By Brian Thom )


In our traditional society, there were many people with special expertise: traders; carvers; healers; prophets; hunters; fishermen; weavers; storytellers, warriors, dispute resolution experts and others. These people provided our society with structure and coherence.

With the arrival of the Europeans (Xwelitems or "Hungry People") many of our traditions have been challenged and threatened. Ultimately, our spirituality was declared immoral and illegal, our right to sell and trade salmon was taken away, our children were placed in foreign residential schools and taught to reject their Elders' teachings. We were forbidden to move about freely among our villages. We became registered members of individual Bands governed by protocols and regulations that were not of our own making."


Kwikwetlem First Nation Early Timeline


7000 B.C.        According to archeologists, human beings occupied the southwest coast of B.C.

2260 B.C.        Sites on our existing reserve confirmed by carbon dating. Mary Hill

400-200 B.C. The Kwikwetlem First Nation people are by then well established in their traditional territory

1700- 1800's    

1791                Spanish and English explorers arrive in the vicinity.

1782                Captain Vancouver wrote of meals with local First Nation people.

1808                The Simon Fraser expedition arrives at the mouth of the Fraser River. Simon Fraser's travels included Kwikwetlem. He described the long house in 1808.. "Their houses described as a Salish longhouse built of cedar planks and in shape.640 feet long by 60 broad.. The front is 18 feet high and the cover is slanting..posts or pillars are nearly 3 feet in diameter. In one of these posts is an oval opening answering the purpose of a door.. Above, on the outside are carved a human figure as large as life with other figures in imitation of beasts and birds." He described the home of the Kwikwetlem members on the upper Coquitlam River.

1858                The International Boundary between Canada and the United States is created.

1859                J.W. Trutch surveyed Reserves.

1860                The St. Charles Mission is established in New Westminster. This is Kwikwetlem First Nation's first contact with the Catholic Church.

1860s              Coquitlam City was being settled. The city bears the name of Chief Kwikwetlem William.

May 1861        Kwikwetlen First Nation is described as the Coquitlam Tribe. One of the first tribes to have reserves set aside in the lower mainland. Coquitlam Indian Reserves I.R.#1 and 2 were set aside for the Coquitlam Tribe by Governor Douglas. At that time it was indicated that IR#2 reserve included an "Indian Burial Ground."

1862                D. Bailey born. Later became Chief, died Oct. 19, 1937. Age 75.

1870                            B.C. unilaterally denies existence of aboriginal title, claiming aboriginal people are too primitive to understand the concept of land ownership..

1871                Our Colonial reserve is established.

1878                Kwikwetlem Reserve is confirmed by Commissioner Sproat.

1878                Canada begins to restrict traditional Indian fishing rights, making a new distinction between food and commercial fishing. 

1881                The first official survey of the Kwikwetlem Indian Reserve is completed.

1884                The Indian Act is amended to outlaw cultural and religious ceremonies such as the potlatch - the major social, economic and political institution of the coastal peoples.

1889                The federal system of permits is introduced to govern commercial fishing. Indians are effectively excluded from commercial fishing.

 1891               District of Coquitlam was formed

1899                Kwikwetlem Chief was Chief Johnny


1906                A representation of Coast Salish Chiefs went to England to fight for land claims.

1915                (aprox) Chief was Chief D. Bailey

1920                Compulsory attendance of Indian children in schools is introduced.

1923                Ottawa permits Indians to acquire commercial fishing licences.

1927                Ottawa prohibits Indians from organizing to discuss land claims.

1931                The Native Brotherhood of B.C. is formed. Secret, underground discussions are launched to keep the Indian land question alive.

1951                Parliament repeals the provisions of the Indian Act that outlawed the potlatch and prohibited "land claims" activity.

? - 1953          Chief Kwikwetlem William. April 23, 1953 The Coquitlam City and the Coquitlam District bear the name of Chief Kwikwetlem William. Chief Kwikwetlem born January 8, 1843 (year not confirmed) deceased Thursday, April 23, 1953 at an approximate age of 110. The May 8, 1953 Coquitlam Herald quoted "Between 700-800 Indian brothers traveled to the Williams home on the reserve near the Red Bridge to pay homage to the old gentleman who looked upon the first white man to enter these parts and watched the first steamboat that ever passed up the Fraser River."


New Chief Tommy William


1960                Aboriginal people on reserves are granted the right to vote in federal elections. The phase-out of Indian residential schools begins.

1973                In the Calder Decision the Supreme Court of Canada splits on the question of aboriginal title.

1978-1981      Archaeology Site Excavated

Archaeologist Valerie Patenaude excavated a spring summer village. The area is by Mary Hill by-pass and was regularly occupied by the First Nations for over 6,000 years. 50,000 artifacts were collected. She quoted in the 1995 Tri-City News "These were wealthy people. They had salmon, berries, potatoes, migratory birds, deer, mountain sheep, specialists in art and storytellers. They weren't waiting for anyone to rescue them." Artifacts are located in the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria. The museum's policy is to hold the artifacts in trust for the First Nation on whose territory they were found.

1985                The last Residential School is finally closed.

1992                B.C., Canada and the First Nations Summit establish the B.C. Treaty Commission to oversee treaty negotiations.


"From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia"

The first traces of a people living in the Fraser Valley date from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. S'lh Tmxw, 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.

St:lō  elders describe their connection to the land in the statement "we have always been here." They tell of their arrival in S'lh Tmxw as Tel Swayel ("sky-borne" people) and through the transformations of ancestral animals and fish such as the beaver, mountain goat, and sturgeon. Xex:ls  (transformers) fixed the world and the people and animals in it, creating the present landscape. As Carlson notes:

The St:lō ­ walk simultaneously through both spiritual and physical realms of this landscape, connected to the Creator through the land itself as transformed by Xex:ls



Prehistory and Archeology

Early period

There is a continuous record of occupation of S'lh Tmxw  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.



Middle period

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 X:ytem, at Hatzic, just east of Mission. Initial work on a suburban housing project around a transformer stone aroused the interests of St:lō archaeologist Gordon Mohs and the land eventually was transferred to St:lō  governance for heritage purposes. The focus of the site is a large transformer stone which bears the name X: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.

Late period

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 St:lō ­ territory. The first point of contact between the St:lō ­ and Europeans came indirectly, through disease.



A smallpox epidemic struck the St: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 St: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 St:lō ­. In 1862, the effects of a smallpox outbreak on the St: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 St: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.







St: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 St: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 St:lō  culture.


Societal Structure

St:lō society was organized into classes: the s:y:m  (or upper classes), the ordinary people, and the slaves. A person's family status was quite important in determining their role within St: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 Sy: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 Sy:m


Housing and shelter

The primary shelter for the St:lō people was in the form of a longhouse. Although some modern longhouses were built with gabled roofs, most St:lō  longhouses were built with a single flat but slanted roof, similar to the X: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 St: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 St:lō ­-Coast Salish Historical Atlas. Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-5505-4812-3. 

Carlson, Keith Thor (ed.) (1997). You Are Asked to Witness: The St: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.


Kwikwetlem First Nation

2-65 Colony Farm Road, Coquitlam, B.C. V3C 5X9

Phone: 604-540-0680  Fax 604-525-0772


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Halq'emeylem Place Names In The Sto:lo Territory [A Sto:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas, 2001]

"The naming of places within S'olh Temexw began thousands of years ago and continue today."Kwikwetlem today has these place names from the mouth of the Kwikwetl'em River, I.R.#1 to approximately three miles up to I.R.#2:

1.      X'min'sucsum' - spiritual site at the top of the Coquitlam Lake

2.      Setlamquemel - where the tide is high, we can go (settlement)

3.      Spi:petolh - baby vision seer (whirlpool, spiritual site)

4.      Th'qwa:ya:la - any fish container (settlement)

5.      Miss-kew-um - settlement

6.      Tl'ekwela - deaf (spiritual, deaf warrior changed to stone)

7.      Kwikwetl'em - red fish up the river