Kwantlen First Nation History:
The Kwantlen (Qw'?ntl'en) First Nation were recorded in 1827 as the largest group on the lower Fraser, with a traditional territory extending from Mud Bay in Tsawwassen, through the Serpentine and Salmon Rivers and along the Fraser River, east past Mission. Though the largest village Squaimetl (sx_woyimehl) and Kikait (Qiqá:yt), was located in New Westminister the Kwantlen were also well established up-river. Kwantlen (Qw'?ntl'en) is a hun'qumi'num word meaning “tireless hunters” or “tireless runners”. In 1890 early anthropologist Charles Hill-Tout wrote, “their (Kwantlen) territories extended from the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser up to the present settlement of Hatzic, which is about sixty miles from salt water. They consequently occupied of controlled more than half of the Halkomelem lands of the mainland.”
The Kwantlen are Sto:lo people, or “river people” who depend upon the river and land for their survival and livelihood. The Sto:lo share a common language known a Halkomelem (Halq'eméylem), of the Coast Salish language family. Halkomelem contains three different dialect groups, which include Island, Downriver and Upriver Halkomelem. While groups in and around Chilliwack and Hope spoke upriver dialects, the Kwantlen (along with six other groups) spoke a dialect of downriver Halkomelem (Hun'qumi'num). Anthropologist Wayne Suttles noted that the downriver group had winter villages from the mouth of the Fraser to about as far as the Stave River.
Elders explain how X_á:ls (the Creator), placed the Kwantlen people under the shores of the Fraser River so they would have access to the area's rich resources. The legend tells of the first Kwantlen named “Swaniset”, meaning to come or appear in a mysterious manner was a Ten Sweyil, or a descendent of the sky, who suddenly appeared on the River. X_á:ls (the Creator) gave Swaniset all the tools and knowledge he would need to become a great hunter and fisherman, as well as a great leader. Under Waniset and his successors the Kwantlen people thrived for countless generations.
Family ties wee extremely important to the Kwantlen Nation with family groups spending much of the year traveling within and beyond their traditional territories to fish, hunt, trade, gather plants and medicine and visit relatives. Although members of other Nations often fished and hunted in others territories families held rights to various fishing sites and controlled access to these resources.
The Kwantlen were reputed to be great hunters and runners and Old Simon Pierre said that their ancestors were the wolf (Johnson 1958:136). The Kwantlen hunted deer, elk, mountain goats and other small game such as ducks, geese and grouse. Later they hunted trapped beaver and marten. The Stave River area was used extensively for hunting and trapping and was an important training ground for youth Kwantlen and other Sto:lo hunters who learned how to hunt and prepare meats and hides to take care of their families.
Salmon was the primary resource to the Kwantlen people and was the basis of their economy and held sacred as a gift from X_á:ls (the Creator). The salmon runs determined the seasonal cycle of the Kwantlen people who joined many other Nations in their summer homes on the tributaries and lakes to fish and also preserve by either smoking or wind drying the salmon for winter. In fact one entry from James McMillan at Fort Langley on September 2 1828 counts “345 canoes of Cowichan already passed and in the next two days an additional 160 passed downstream”. There were reportedly upwards of 5000 First Nations who gathered in the Kwantlen territory to fish and trade. This peaceful economic trade between the Nations allowed for a rich cultural interchange and preserved cultural unity.
The Kwantlen lived in cedar plant longhouses in the winter and had summer homes both above and below ground made of rush mats and bark. Simon Fraser, while traveling through the Sto:lo territory in 1808 recorded the image of a Kwantlen village as:
Their houses are built of cedar planks and in shape, similar to the one already described, the whole range, which is six hundred and forty feet long by sixty broad, is under one roof, the front is eighteen feet high and the covering is slanting: all the apartments which are separated by partitions are square, except the Chief's, which is ninety feet long. In this room the posts or pillars are nearly three feet in diameter at the base and diminish gradually to the top. In one of these posts is an oval opening answering the purpose of the door through which one man may crawl in or out. Above, on the outside, are carved human figures as large as life, with other figures in imitation of beats and birds.
Within their territory, the Kwantlen had established several villages, fishing sites and other resource locations along the banks of the Fraser River and its' tributaries, including the Stave River. Extended families resided throughout the Sto:lo territory, providing access to various fishing grounds, as well as many berry, plant and root crop areas. There were also long established trade routes that connected the Kwantlen people with interior Nations. Stave Lake in particular provided excellent hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering grounds for the Kwantlen and many other Sto:lo.
In 1782 a devastating smallpox epidemic along with measles, influenza and tuberculosis that lasted until 1808 nearly annihilated the 15,000 - 28,000 Sto:lo population. Keith Carlson, historian of he Sto:lo Nation, estimates that within weeks of contracting small pox, “roughly two thirds of the Sto:lo Population died horrible painful deaths” (Carlson 1997:28). The Kwantlen population was decimated, with their numbers reduced from thousands to a historic low of fewer than one hundred (Mohs 1995).