The Central Coast Salish area, with a mild and relatively dry climate, has rich and varied resources. Paramount were annual runs of salmon that ascended the Fraser and Squamish rivers from May through November. Members of all four groups fished the Fraser River, but most favourably situated were Halkomelem, who fished with dip nets and large trawl nets towed between CANOES. Straits Salish perfected the reef net, a unique trap set between pairs of canoes at locations in the sea where Fraser-bound salmon were known to pass. Most salmon were caught in summer when surplus quantities could be dried on open-air racks. While equipment has changed, Central Coast Salish people continue to fish these areas.
Large shed-roofed houses were built in villages, from which trips were made to gather seasonal resources. Life centered around the household groups consisting of extended families with a core or lineage of people linked through male or female lines of descent. Marriage with blood kin was not permitted; thus spouses usually came from different villages and networks of kinship linked people throughout Central Coast Salish territory. Resource sites and ritual privileges were owned by lineages or kin groups, whose members worked co-operatively under the direction of esteemed leaders. There was a hierarchical class structure within the clans as well as slaves. Class position was imprecise, without ranked lineages or titled positions, but people strove to maintain class standing by hard work, selective marriages and proper behaviour.
Summer and autumn were times for potlatches, when people from neighbouring villages were invited to feast and recognize the hosts' social position (see POTLATCH). Today, people are still linked by a network of kin and many host potlatches as memorials for noted deceased family members.
Religious activity focused on spiritual helpers who conferred personal powers for hunting, doctoring or other human endeavours. These individual powers were celebrated during winter in rituals referred to as spirit dances. Some spirit powers took the form of hereditary cleansing rituals, performed with masks, effigies or decorated rattles. The Indian Shaker Church (unrelated to the US-based Shakers religion) developed in the late 19th century and contains features of Christianity and traditional beliefs (see NATIVE PEOPLE, RELIGION). Many Central Coast Salish belong to Christian churches, particularly Catholic, Pentecostal, and other protestant denominations. Sculptural art found additional expression in tombs, house posts and implements (see NORTHWEST COAST NATIVE ART). Following a decline, participation in winter dancing has grown significantly since the 1970s.
The early maritime fur trade, concentrated on the outer coast, did not directly affect Central Coast Salish, whose territory was first explored by Spanish and British ships in the early 1790s. In 1827 the HUDSON'S BAY CO established FORT LANGLEY in the centre of Halkomelem territory. In the late 19th century, as settlers were attracted to south Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley, Central Coast Salish territory became the most heavily populated part of BC.
Despite great cultural changes, distinctive rituals and religious expressions survive, uniting the small, dispersed villages permitting the maintenance of a vigorous sense of Aboriginal identity. Following a dramatic population decline in the 19th century, the population has rebounded and there are more than 18 000 registered Central Coast Salish listed in 58 bands in BC, and over 9 500 members in six tribes in Washington state.
The Central Coast Salish in Canada have acted to protect their legal rights and title to their territory and its resources. Many bands have united into tribal councils to jointly seek legal and political remedies to their claims to share in the wealth of the natural resources, particularly the fisheries. The Tsawwassen and Hwlitsum Coast Salish First Nations are located in the lower mainland of BC, and the Gulf Islands. The Tsawwassen First Nation treaty with Canada took effect in 2009, giving Tsawwassen rights for self-governance within the Canadian constitution. The Canoe Pass Indian Band was established in 1996 to represent the Hwlitsum people and the society quickly changed its name to the Hwlitsum First Nation. The Hwlitsum First Nation is an unrecognized band; in 2000, the Hwlitsum applied to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to create a new band at the Hwlitsum summer village, and in 2008 the Hwlitsum entered into the BC Treaty process.
Author MICHAEL KEW Revised:BRUCE GRANVILLE MILLER
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve
An extensive website devoted to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve. Offers detailed information about local First Nations history and present day environmental conservation programs.Produced by Pearson College and partner organizations.
The Bill Reid Centre For Northwest Coast Art Studies
Part of the Department of First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University, this centre is devoted to "the study of First Nations art of the Northwest Coast as the visual embodiment of a broad cultural development since the end of the last Ice Age." Click the links on the right side of the page to view an illustrated profile of the history and heritage of featured language groups and villages.