The Squamish Nation is one of the many indigenous nations of B.C., formed in 1923 when 16 Siiyam (Chiefs) from smaller nations came together seeking better representation and rights for their people. Today the nation has a population of over 3,500 people and 24 percent are youth. There are only 10 people who speak Squamish fluently, making language immersion a priority for the community. The Nation holds elections to democratically elect chiefs every 4 years, and is one of the few indigenous communities to do so.
The word “Sto:lo” means “people of the river.” Their traditional territory spans from the mouth of the Fraser River all the way to the interior of the province. The communities continue to hold a high value for the Fraser and the salmon that populate it. The fish features heavily in Sto:lo design and artwork, as well as in the communities themselves. The Sto:lo Nation is an administrative body that provides social, health, family, financial, and environmental services to eleven different First Nations communities in the Fraser valley.
Sto:lo Tribal Council
The Sto:lo Tribal Council consists of eight different First Nations extending from Hope to Langley. Traditionally, much of their culture and economy revolved around the abundance of fish in the Fraser River. Today, the population of the Sto:lo Tribal Council is over 1700. In 2006, after differing ideas regarding the treaty process, the Sto:lo Tribal Council became a distinct political body apart from the Sto:lo Nation. However, the Sto:lo Tribal Council has brokered several timber and fishing agreements with the provincial government outside of the treaty process.
Tsawwassen First Nation
The tides are changing in Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN), known as “the land facing the sea.” Five years after TFN signed its treaty and became a member of Metro Vancouver, the community has an ambitious economic plan for the future that includes a massive mall and an “oceanside living” housing development where sales begin at half a million dollars. As TFN continues to grow and consider its new options as a self-governing nation, its members remain intimately connected to the water around them, from the Fraser River to the Salish Sea.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, meaning “People of the Inlet,” may have a registered population of just under 500 members – half of which live on reserve – but carry an influence and long history that belies their small size. Their territory once stretched from Mount Garibaldi to the mouth of the Fraser River, but today is limited to a small reserve in North Vancouver and cultural area up Indian Arm. A Coast Salish First Nation, the Tsleil-Waututh have a strong connection to their traditional territory, and have worked to protect and revitalize it in recent years through programs like the Sacred Trust Initiative.
An unprecedented number of indigenous British Columbians are leaving rural communities for cities, with more than 56 per cent living off-reserve. As a result, Vancouver’s indigenous population reflects the diversity found throughout the city. And that population is younger on average (31) than non-indigenous Vancouverites (39). Vancouver’s indigenous people are over-represented in the Downtown Eastside, in care and the judicial system. They face a number of challenges, including homelessness, substance abuse, high rates of chronic diseases and low graduation rates. However, more indigenous people are graduating from high school and post-secondary institutions than previous generations.