We are the people of the Tsawwassen First Nation.
Our 290-hectare (717 acre) reserve is located at Roberts Bank in Delta,
on the southern Strait of Georgia near the Canada - U.S. border.
We are a proud, sea-faring Coast Salish people. For thousands of years, we traveled and fished the waterways of the southern Strait of Georgia and lower Fraser River, visiting all Canadian and U.S. Gulf Islands.
Our population is young and growing fast. We number 328 today; 168 live on our reserve. About 60 per cent of TFN people are under 25 years old, compared with neighboring Delta, where 36 per cent are under 25 years old.
On our reserve, the average family income is $20,065, compared to Delta, at $67,844. Sadly, about 40 per cent of our people are on welfare or some other form of social assistance. Our unemployment rate is 38 per cent, compared with neighboring Delta at 7.4 per cent. Our high school graduation rate is 47 per cent; Delta's is 77 per cent.
We have been here since time immemorial. Archeologists say the southwest coast of B.C. has been occupied by human beings for at least 9,000 years. Carbon dating at sites on our existing village takes us back to 2260 B.C. when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt. And sites such as Whalen Farm and Beach Grove date back to 400 - 200 B.C., offering documented proof of Tsawwassen use and occupation.
Traditional Tsawwassen territory is bordered on the northeast by the watersheds that feed into Pitt Lake, down Pitt River to Pitt Meadows where they empty into the Fraser River. It includes Burns Bog and part of New Westminster, following the outflow of the river just south of Sea Island. From Sea Island it cuts across the Strait to Galiano Island and includes all of Saltspring, Pender and Saturna islands. From there, the territory continues northeast to include the Point Roberts peninsula, and the watersheds of the Serpentine and Nicomekl Rivers. We have never surrendered this territory.
In earlier times, we organized ourselves in extended families living together in one Longhouse. Inside, each family, including grandparents and other relatives, had its own designated space. In summer, our ancestors lived in temporary homes, built with poles and woven cedar mats. People traveled about our territory in cedar canoes.
The Tsawwassen people did not construct large totem poles, carving instead decorative house posts, spindle whorls as well as masks, decorated tools and many other objects of art. Clothing was woven from material such as cedar bark and goat hair.
Our ancestors were accomplished fishers, and salmon and sturgeon were mainstays of our traditional diet. Different methods were used to catch sturgeon: tidal traps, gaff-hooking, sack-netting and harpooning. All kinds of clams, oysters, crabs and other shellfish were harvested along the foreshore. Stewardship was closely linked to harvesting; an example of that was the First Salmon ceremony, when the salmon returned every year. The salmon, it was believed, were supernatural beings, who came every year to give their flesh to the people who were obliged to treat them properly. The salmon were cooked in a special way and their bones carefully returned to water in a sacred ritual. This ceremony is still carried out today.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of fishing in the lives
of our ancestors and community today. Salmon and many other species of fish
were a central part of the diets of all Coast Salish people.
Our ancestors used the lands for cultivation to produce food products for themselves and others, for example in the production of camas bulbs, cranberries and medicinal plants.
Our ancestors were skilled hunters, too. Waterfowl - ducks, mallards and loons - as well as sea mammals such as porpoises, seals and sea lions formed part of their diet. The tidal flats at Westham Island and Boundary Bay were a favorite duck-hunting area.
Elk, deer, black bear and beaver were hunted in season, supplementing the regular diet of fish. Deer were caught in nets, with bow and arrow and pitfall traps. Deer-hunting areas included English Bluff, the south side of Lulu Island and the area now known as New Westminster.
Ancient Tsawwassen people greatly relied on western red and yellow cedar, which provided homes, firewood, food, tools for carving and cooking, great ocean-going canoes, clothing and ceremonial gear. Other plants, shells from inter-tidal creatures, bones from land and sea mammals and birds, and skins from bear, deer and elk provided other essential materials.
Food was abundant. A trade and barter system was in place. Specialized services were also exchanged. This resulted in a distinctive craftsmanship that was in existence prior to European contact.
Tsawwassen people participated in potlatches - important cultural events which 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.
In 1914, Tsawwassen Chief Harry Joe submitted a petition to the McKenna McBride Commission then reviewing the province's reserves. The Chief argued eloquently that the Tsawwassen people did not want to be forced into exile on a tiny reserve. His words went unheeded by the politicians of the day and, over time, aboriginal fishing and other rights were legislated away.
For the first half of the 20th century, Tsawwassen was largely ignored by everybody, except for a few bureaucrats. Ironically, this provided the basis for the development of a people with strong and committed leaders and a determination to overcome the many obstacles put in our way.
All of this would change starting in the 1950's as commercial development and public infrastructure occurred. Despite these negative impacts, we have struggled to participate in Canadian society and its economy. Some of our members fought in World War I and World War II.
Today, we have been unable to reach a water and sewage servicing agreement with Delta Council, even though drainage water, which contains agricultural run-off and other pollutants, from neighbouring Delta empties into the foreshore in the middle of our reserve.
Today, on our reserve, an Administration Office provides essential services to our members. We have developed elder, youth and language programs, all designed to build a healthier community.
Between 1994 and 1996 we built Tsatsu Shores, a condominium development,
as an economic-development initiative.
We faced stiff opposition from government agencies and municipal politicians at every turn. When Delta refused to provide water and sewer for the development we were left with no option but to provide our own services. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans unsuccessfully tried to prosecute us for building a tertiary sewage treatment and reverse osmosis water treatment plant - while, at the same time, the department permitted other governments to dump raw human waste and industrial sewage into the Fraser River, Boundary Bay, Burrard Inlet and the Strait of Georgia from dozens of outfall pipes.
Our colonial reserve, established in 1871, is located on a traditional
Here, we fished, hunted and gathered a rich variety of foods.
At the onset of winter, our ancestors returned to the cedar Longhouses in the
winter village and focused on ceremonies exclusive to Coast Salish peoples.