Who We Are
We are the Hul'qumi'num people of southeastern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the lower Fraser River. We are made up of six First Nations: Cowichan, Chemainus, Penelakut, Lyackson, Halalt and Lake Cowichan.
We are a Coast Salish people. For thousands of years, we have lived in, travelled and fished the waterways of the Strait of Georgia and the lower Fraser River.
Our population is young and growing fast. We number more than 6,200 people today and it is estimated about 60 per cent of our members are under 25 years old.
We have been here since time immemorial. Our lands on the Northwest Coast are rich in our ancestors' heritage. Over 1,000 archaeological heritage sites have been recorded on southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Though few of our ancestral villages have been dated, several, including T'eet'qei (Shingle Point), Thuq'mi'n (Shell Beach) and Tl'e'ulthw (Pender Canal), date back over 5,000 years, contemporary to the Old Kingdom of Egypt. There are many more ancestral heritage sites that have not yet been recorded.
Our core territory includes southeastern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the lower Fraser River. It encompasses the land and waters in and around the watersheds of the Cowichan, Koksilah, Goldstream, Chemainus and south Nanaimo river systems on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the mouth and south arm of the Fraser River to Douglas Island. The marine territory includes all the waters of the Strait of Georgia, the Fraser River south of Yale, Juan de Fuca Strait and upper Puget Sound.
Our way of life is rooted in the land. Traditionally, our extended families lived together in longhouses. We settled in villages of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. Many of our village names are familiar today: Quamichan, Chemainus and Somenos, for example. Inside each longhouse, extended families, including grandparents and other relatives, had their own designated space. In summer, our ancestors travelled throughout their territories, visiting relatives in other villages, occupying summer longhouse village sites, or sometimes staying in temporary homes built with poles and woven cedar mats.
People travelled throughout our territory, fishing, hunting and gathering a rich variety of foods. At the onset of each winter, our ancestors returned to their villages and focused on the ceremonies and cultural traditions of our Coast Salish peoples.
We have a rich tradition of carving monumental art such as house posts. Our carvers are also masters of smaller works, such as spindle whorls, sacred masks and rattles, and decorated tools. Clothing was woven from cedar bark and our Coast Salish mountain goat blankets are world renowned. Many are extraordinarily beautiful and evoke the spirit power and artistic mastery of our ancestors.
We are part of a larger group of First Nations, the Coast Salish people. The Coast Salish people share a culture that is common to communities on eastern Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and south into Washington State. The relationships among Coast Salish communities remain strong throughout the Coast Salish world despite the Canada/U.S. border.
Our society has a sophisticated understanding of hwulmuhw (Indigenous) relationships, s'aalh tumuhw (land) and resource and extraction rights, as well as a world view that reflects a spiritual relationship with the environment and an obligation to manage responsibly the use of resources. This world view recognizes the need to manage human behaviour relative to the needs, including the spiritual needs, of the environment.
Our Oral Histories Link Us to Our Territory
Our oral histories connect our people to s'aalh tumuhw from the beginning of time. These oral histories, which have been carefully passed on by generations of elders, clearly express laws that root us in our traditional lands.
The First Ancestors of the Hul'qumi'num are the original occupants of s'aalh tumuhw on southeastern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the lower Fraser River. Maps record more than 500 Hul'qumi'num place names blanketing the landscape, demonstrating our ongoing connection to these lands, waters and resources. Our oral traditions also affirm this deep rootedness in the territory.
Our First Ancestors descended from the sky to land atop places such as the mountains of Swuq'us (Mt. Prevost), Skw'aakw'nus (Mt. Sicker), Hwsalu'utsum (Koksilah Ridge), and Pulumutsun (Mt. Brenton), the mouth of the Chemainus River or to arise from the beaches at Puneluxutth' (Penelakut Spit).
At the end of the time of the First Ancestors, the Transformer, Xeel's, arrived. He went through the land making things as they are now. He transformed the ancestors into the deer, into the cedar tree, into the rocks, which continue to be found in the land today. He taught us about the respect and obligations required to live in the world.
His transformations live on in the animals and landscape, which carry the history of Xeelis' work in their Hul'qumi'num names. As descendants of the First Ancestors, we recognize our special connections to the s'aalh tumuhw and the resources in it. We are related to the living things and places that were transformed by Xeel's all those years ago.
Our oral histories emphasize the importance of our extended family ties. Hereditary names, ceremonial masks and other inherited privileges connect the people to territories and resources throughout the Coast Salish. The names and oral histories tell of travels for fishing on the Fraser River as far up as Yale, north to Cape Mudge in the Strait of Georgia and in Knight Inlet. They tell about trips to the mountains of the mainland for hunting and gathering of mountain goat wool.
They recall the travels of the Hul'qumi'num as far as the interior of B.C. and central Oregon for trade and participation in the complex economic system of potlatching. Important cultural events, potlatches provided the means for our ancestors to standardize critical information about marriages, deaths and the ownership of names, songs, dances, and other ceremonial and economic privileges.back to top
Ancient Stories Resonate Today
Our Hul'qumi'num oral history and customary laws, our snuw'ey'ulh, teach us that we are not of the land, we are the land and its resources.
Our connection to our territory is based on our ongoing history of use, occupancy and customary laws of land ownership and is deeply rooted in our cultural fabric. Our snuw'ey'ulh tell us that our inalienable connection to the land and resources is not only our right, it is our responsibility. Our ancestral connections to the resources embody our model for continued stewardship today.
Fishing — from salmon and cod to oysters, clams and crabs — continues to provide a critical food on our tables today. Our people continue to use plans for medicines and foods. We hunt for waterfowl and large game. The forest also provides the materials for our on-going practices of building ceremonial houses and living spaces, providing firewood, and crafting tools, canoes, art and ceremonial gear.
The way our ancestors have used and occupied our territories continue to be important cultural and economic traditions in our communities to this day.