First Nations

Human history in British Columbia reaches back to the end of the most recent Ice Age. Nomadic individuals from Asia crossed a land bridge spanning the current day Bering Sea and settled coastlines from modern-day Alaska south. Unique tribes developed with specific customs and styles of speech. What became BC played host to 198 groups collectively referred to as the First Nations.

 

COASTAL TRIBES

Coastal tribes were the first to become permanent. Tlingit, Kwakiutl, and Gitxsan were among them. Origin myths abound, with many interpretations claiming an almost reincarnation feeling. Seagulls, orca, and grizzly bears are among the animals that were reported to turn into human form and settle. These histories were passed down through an oral tradition. Totem poles are another lasting remnant of these traditional cultures.

Fishing was a mainstay resource for the coastal First Nations people. Abundant marine life of all sort were respectfully harvested in order for the tribes to continue their ways of life. Berry picking, hunting, and even intertribal trading also took place. Kwakiutl, settled on Vancouver Island, likely dealt with the Gitxsan, settled on the mainland tributaries, who likely dealt with the Blackfoot Confederacy.

 

INLAND TRIBES

The Blackfoot Confederacy resided heavily inland. Trout and buffalo were the main animal resources among this migratory group of people. Seasons would see them move with the game they relied so heavily on for sustenance. With the movements, the Blackfoot Confederacy were key in helping the First Nations establish trade routes. British Columbia, by name, did not exist until the 19th century, but it was already connected with the rest of the North American continent by 1000 BC.

 

EUROPEAN ENCROACHMENT

Native ways of life continued through most of the 18th century. European explorers and fur traders brought major change to their ways of life at the turn of the 19th century. Expansion of English and Spanish forts and settlements brought disease and forced First Nations tribes to adapt to new ways of survival. Violence between Native and White populations was not as prevalent in British Columbia as compared to the rest of North America.

A series of treaties and requests from the First Nations tribes were repeatedly denied under the larger Canadian government's Indian Act. It was repealed in 1951, and continued reconnection with historic cultural ways continue today. Work between First Nations leaders and Canadian officials is ongoing. Successfully advancing relationships between varied cultural groups while respecting growth and histories makes these efforts vital.