Our oral history tells us up to 10,000 Tsleil-Waututh members lived in our traditional territory, before contact with Europeans. Our ancestors’ survival depended on cycles of hunting, harvesting and preserving foods, and on trade with our neighbours.
Originally, our great nation was about 10,000 strong, a distinct Coast Salish nation whose territory includes Burrard Inlet and the waters draining into it.
Our people lived by a “seasonal round,” a complex cycle of food gathering and spiritual and cultural activities that formed the heart of our culture. In winter, community members congregated in large villages located in sheltered bays. Shed-roofed houses up to several hundred feet in length were divided into individual family apartments. Our people subsisted largely on stored dried foods gathered and processed throughout the rest of the year. Winter activities included wood carving, weaving blankets of mountain-goat wool, and participating in spiritual ceremonies.
In late spring, families would disperse to set up camps on virtually every beach and protected cove in Tsleil-Waututh territory. Our people transported planks from the winter houses by canoe to construct smaller summer structures. From these base camps, we made excursions to hunt, fish and gather food, as resources became seasonally available. Some food was consumed immediately; others were processed and stored for winter.
Many of our ancestors and elders were devastated by contact with Europeans from smallpox, residential schools, and cultural suppression.
In mid-July or early August, most of the Tsleil-Waututh and other Coast Salish groups travelled to the Fraser River to catch and dry the most favoured type of salmon: sockeye. During this time, people would visit, exchange news of relatives, and form alliances. We also harvested and dried large volumes of berries during the summer.
After the Fraser River run finished in the fall, Tsleil-Waututh families would congregate in camps on the Indian, Capilano, Seymour and other rivers to fish for pink and chum salmon.