An Historical Overview of BC's First Nations
Prepared by Project North (B.C.), 1991, Victoria, B.C. Thanks to
Mavis Gillie for all her work.
On the 29th of March 1778, the British ships Resolution and
Discovery sailed into a narrow passage between a large island and a coast lined with tall
trees. They came looking for wood, food, and water. A sailor recounted the scene:
As we came closer to the shore some canoes full of people came to
meet us. Some of them were dressed in fine furs. The canoes paddled around our ships
several times and the people began to sing. Their leader sang a few words; then everyone
joined in the song. They kept time by beating their paddles against the canoes. Afterwards
they pointed to the shore and shouted to us in words that we did not know. We heard them
say "Nootka" many times. We will call this place Nootka Sound and we will call
these people Nootkas. (Corner 197)
The "Nootka" were the Nuu-chah-nulth people and their
songs declared the land and the sea as far west as the horizon and as far east as the
mountains to be the territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth. The strangers were welcomed as
guests, even though their appearance was strange to the native eye. To those in the canoes
the massive ships appeared to be houses.
People were watching us from the house and we think they must have
been fish come to life as men. One had a pale face. Perhaps he was once a spring salmon.
One looked like a dog salmon while most others had red faces. They must have once been
coho salmon. Our legends tell of the salmon people who lived under the sea. Each year they
become fish for us to catch and then they return to their home. Perhaps these are salmon
We shall call them Mamathni. This means that they are living on the
water and floating around. They have no land. (Corner 198)
The lives of native people have changed drastically since contact
with Europeans two hundred years ago. This brief historical overview does not attempt
detailed exploration of the many profound implications of "contact" for both the
native and non-native cultures of British Columbia. The purpose is to relate the
highlights of the relationship and to sketch broadly the implications of mutual histories.
Since there are many different native cultures, diverse in history, language, and custom
within B.C., only general observations are made.
in this section:
Land and Culture
Sir James Douglas
Early Native Protests
Unlawful to Protest
1969 White Paper
Gitskan - Wet'suwet'en