The Secwépemc people have had settlements in the Columbia Valley for many years.
Historically, the Shuswap Indian Band (SIB) had trade routes for exchanging natural resources, such as salmon or traditional medicines, with the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the Piikani Nation.
“The Shuswap and Stoney Indians had a close relationship for many years pre-contact,” Olivia De Brabandere, SIB heritage and culture representative, wrote to the Pioneer’s request for information about historical trade routes. “The Shuswap and the Stoney Indians had an agreement that the Shuswap could hunt buffalo in Alberta, and in exchange, the Stoney Nation could come to the valley to hunt and fish for salmon. Beyond this agreement, the nations also traded horses, and mountain medicines through Howse Pass, Yellowhead Pass, Eagle Pass and the Blaeberry River System.”
In fact, it has been said by some that Simpson Pass, which is located between Alta. and B.C., was previously dubbed by the Stoney Nakoda Nation as the Shuswap Pass.
In addition, the Ktunaxa Nation and some communities from the Okanagan historically participated in trade routes with the SIB each year.
“Trail networks brought SIB members to the east, but they also brought eastern groups into the Kootenay region for cross-cultural events, including pow-wows, horse-racing and other ceremonies or celebrations,” ,” explained De Brabandere.” While this still occurs, the oppressive Indian Act made it illegal for large gatherings to occur, which caused some details of these events to be forgotten.
“SIB is currently revitalizing these traditions today.”
In addition, there were many well-known trails tied to spiritual areas for the SIB in their records, including the Spirit Trail, stretching from Invermere south toward Canal Flats and Whiteswan Lake.
The existing documentation and research at the SIB indicates travel routes and trails that Chief Yelheelna Kinbasket and the Kinbasket family migrated with a group of people from the Chu Chua and the Adams Lake regions in the 18th century. Some of the trail systems that have been used over time stretched from west of Ashcroft south to near Osoyoos, north of Kinbasket Lake near Blue River and east across the Rockies.
Trail systems connecting land-use sites and habitation areas included trails through Athabasca Pass, the east side of the Columbia River from Windermere to Big Bend and the Bigmouth Creek to Kinbasket Lake.
In addition, there were several other popular routes used by the SIB, including Kicking Horse Pass, Luxor Pass Trail, Sinclair Pass Trail and the Jumbo Pass up Lardeau Valley past Trout Lake into Eagle Pass.
The Paint Pots ochre source located in Kootenay National Park acted as a trade route in the past and had been used in the 1920s for elk hunting.
“This route connected to Shuswap Road and led to the Little Rock Camp, which contains two kekuli connected by underground tunnels,” Brabandere wrote to the Pioneer. “Indian Agent McKay’s record also comments on the SIB guides on Luxor Trail. Luxor was the last undeveloped pass with Shuswap and Stoney camps on either end. It was a historic route to ochre, and horse-trading route between the two groups.”
De Brabandere indicated that archives showed a 1920’s census showed 14 people were at the village. The next census showed 143 in the area which resulted in prohibited usage of the pass.
“After this, there were no groups using it,” she added.
Before the loss of salmon occurred in the Columbia Valley, the SIB traded heavily with communities to the east for large game such as the Plains Bison. Often, this meant trading commonly-held items like beavers, berries and medicines.
Records indicate that the construction of highways and roads, as well as the closure of Vermillion Pass, impacted the SIB’s ability to move throughout the lands. However, the Secwépemc had long-standing trading relationships in the United States of America with the Colville Nation for horses; while long distance trails were shared with the Sylix (Okanagan) and the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) Nations for gatherings and trades.
“To conclude, Secwépemc people have been in this area for a significantly long time, making use of travel routes and resources in their relations with other communities,” wrote De Brabandere.
Although salmon and medicines were significant trade items, a wide variety of resources were exchanged through the use of these trade routes. Trade does continue today between the Shuswap, Stroney and Piikani communities for items such as beadwork, furs, game and plant foods, among other things, though the loss of salmon and bison means that these commodities are no longer at the centre.
Trade can also be seen in exchange of harvesting access where a neighbouring group may be permitted to collect plants of hunt in a local Indigenous territory for separate routes.
Breanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer