Brief histories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh & Musqueam First Nations


I’ve been sitting on this list for a while now, debating about what we should do with it. Months back our team was talking about how at City of Vancouver events we often hear officials stating that we’re on unceded territory, but that nobody really knows what that means, or who the people are that they mention and thank. We hoped to shed a little bit of light on that by putting together 20 or so slides with information about the 3 local first nations’ history.

A total of 4 people worked on this list, all non-first-nations folks, and after it was completed I (acting as the editor-in-chief here) really struggled with it. While the slides in it do tell a story it’s not the actual story of these first nations people. It’s their story that we’ve researched and brought you some facts about. It’d be like if you went and did some research about the Kronbauer family and published a list about how my cousins run a sawmill, alzheimer’s disease runs in my family, my great uncle got wrongly accused of something way back when and we like to get together as a family every year around Christmas. It would lack context, and it would hardly be of any use if you really wanted to get to know us. Even that is a poor comparison because my family is white and we’ve never been truly oppressed, but I hope you understand my point.

So I wasn’t going to publish the list at all, that is until I took a tour of the Museum of Vancouver’s cesna?em, the city before the city exhibit. Through artifacts and interactive displays, the Musqueam people offer an intimate look inside their own culture, inviting us in to hear their stories.

Take a look at this list below, realize how much you still don’t know about the history of the first peoples of Vancouver, then go down to the Museum and check out the stories that they themselves want to tell you. HERE is a link to info about it.

History of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh & Musqueam

By Vancouver Is Awesome

Before European explorers landed on the shores of the Burrard Inlet, what would come to be known as the modern day Vancouver was home to various indigenous groups. This is their brief history.

  • The Coast Salish Peoples

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam are three of the various tribes and nations that comprise the Coast Salish peoples, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest Coast.

  • Land Traditionally Occupied

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The Squamish saw Point Grey as their southern border, while the Musqueam have occupied the Fraser River Estuary for thousands of years, which was also the southern border for Tsleil-Waututh territory.

  • Modern Day Vancouver’s Oldest Residents

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The Great Marpole Midden, located in modern day Marpole, was once an ancient Musqueam village and burial site, making the Musqueam people the oldest residents of Vancouver (dating back 4000 years).

  • 1770s: The First Epidemic

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    During the 1770s, a smallpox epidemic devastated the indigenous populations inhabiting the Northwest coastline of North America, and would be the first of several upon the landing of the Europeans.

  • 1792: First Contact With Europeans

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The Squamish were the first indigenous peoples of BC to have made contact with European explorers (of which Capt. George Vancouver was one) that sailed into the Burrard Inlet.

  • A Wave of Disease

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    A wave of foreign diseases brought over by European settlers, such as influenza and measles, continued to ravage Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, and other indigenous communities.

  • Early 19th Century

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    During the early 19th century, following the establishment of European settlements near traditional Coast Salish territory, the fur trade boomed, with the Hudson’s Bay Co. being a primary facilitator.

  • 1857: The Gradual Civilization Act

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The first of many acts aimed at assimilating the indigenous peoples, the act promised the award of land to indigenous males with sufficient elementary level education by British standards.

  • 1858 to 1859: The Fraser Gold Rush

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The promise of gold and potential wealth attracted a throng of foreign settlers into the area, which contributed to the continued displacement of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tseil-Waututh people.

  • 1876: The Indian Act

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The controversial act was first passed by the Canadian government in 1876, and called for the designation of specific plots of land as "Indian Reserves," where each indigenous band would reside.

  • The Implications of the Indian Act

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    Managed by the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, chiefs were assigned to each reserve, most of which were merely a fraction of the size of what the indigenous historically occupied.

  • Further Land Reduction

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    Although a portion of the land traditionally occupied by the indigenous peoples was already confiscated by the Canadian government, more land was sold off, both legally and illegally.

  • Residential Schools

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    With 1876’s Indian Act, residential schools rose to prominence. The schools were ran by churches, primarily the Roman Catholics, the Anglican, and the United Churches of Canada.

  • 1884: Compulsory Attendance

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    In 1884, attendance of residential schools became mandatory for anyone of "Status Indian," and under 16 years of age. Failure to comply would result in fines or potential jail time for families.

  • 1884-1948: Residential School Conditions

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    Due to the isolated nature of residential schools, physical and sexual abuse was commonplace, and poor living conditions due to overcrowding and lack of medical care, led to the spread of disease.

  • Mortality Rates

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    As such, mortality rates reached upwards of 60+%, revelations that were not publicized until 1922, when Dr. Peter Bryce published his findings from a 1909 report on the conditions within schools.

  • 1923: The Formation of the Squamish Nation

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    In 1923, the respective reserve chiefs came together to form the Squamish Nation, a collective governing body with an elected band manager, to oversee reserve operations and governmental negotiations.

  • 1948 to 1996: The Last of the Residential Schools

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    While residential school attendance was no longer compulsory by 1948, the last residential schools did not close until 1996.

  • 1951: The Revival of the Potlatch

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    Since the official governmental ban on the potlatch following an amendment of the Indian Act in 1884, the practice was finally restored in 1951 when the ban was repealed. 

  • The Indian Act Today

    By Vancouver Is Awesome

    The Indian Act is still the primary document governing the interaction of the Canadian government with the Squamish Band (amongst others), but has seen many amendments since its inception in 1876.

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Bob is our founder and Editor-in-Chief. A family man and outdoors enthusiast in his 3rd decade of publishing, he steers the V.I.A. ship, hosts our 'BC Was Awesome' history TV show and co-hosts our weekly podcast.