First Nations

Generally referred to as the Chemainus Tribal Group, it consists of the:

Very little written history exists, the actually history being passed down by stories. A common language existed which was associated with the Vancouver Island Coast Salish who spoke the Hul’qumi’num dialect. The actual territory included most of the Gulf Islands as well as Vancouver Island. There are 7 known communities on our area.

Generally a peaceful society of fishers. The territory they fished extended all the way to the Fraser River on the mainland. But they did plant harvesting and hunting as well. In the 1850’s the population was estimated to be between 8,000 and 15,000.

Unfortunately, smallpox greatly reduced the population. There were actually two epidemics, the latest being in 1862.

Social structure was a family society. Everyone occupied a winter house. Men often had co-wives. Spouses of adult children joined the family group. In summer most families relocated to fishing villages or lived outside. Mind you, slaves were kept. Usually captured on infrequent raids to other tribes. Often these raids were used to get women as wives. Winter houses were usually used from December to February. During that time events and potlatches were held. Potlatches were an important part of all the coastal nations. The more the tribe could give away the greater the show of wealth. The provincial government of the time actually banned them fearing that all the wealth of tribes was being given away. Potlatches were banned from 1884 to 1951.

An abundance of wood, mainly cedar provided materials for housing and canoes. Maple and alder were used for smoking fish. Tribal herbal remedies were used for disease and infection. A practice that still works to this day.

Agriculture provided a good part of the diet, but there was an abundance of game and birds. Hunters had special status within the tribal structure. Seals and porpoises provided a source of oil.

In spite if incursions by settlers and enforced re-locations, the First Nations have maintained a strong bond. Cultural patterns and practices are continued to this day.

Source: Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group.

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