Secwepemc Culture

“Weytk” is an invitation for you to explore the culture and history of the Secwepemc.

The Secwepemc are a nation of 17 communities that occupy the south-central part of  British Columbia. Most settlers and visitors know the Secwepemc by the name Shuswap which is geographically misleading. These proud people have been stewards of the land and have lived in the interior region since time immemorial.

When Europeans reached the Secwepemc, their territory extended from the Columbia River Valley in the east to the Fraser River in the west and from the upper Fraser region in the north to the present Arrow Lakes in the south. A vast and diverse  land of 56,000 square miles or 145,000 square kilometers. These ancestral territories remain unceded to this day.

The First Nations operated separately and independently but also worked together economically with trade routes throughout the territory and shared a common language, Secwepemctsin. They were traditionally semi-nomadic people influenced by seasonal food resources and living conditions. They had designed warm semi-underground kekulis (pit houses) for winter comfort and cooler more mobile summer residences made of reeds called “mat house”. 

Their economy was based on fishing, hunting and trading and their diet consisted mainly of meat, fish, berries and roots. Life style reflected a coexistence and respect for all things in nature and the cultivation of skills and traditions handed down for generations by oral tradition. Many of the traditional ways were changed with the arrival of Europeans and the diseases they brought with them, though the resiliency, pride, and holistic worldview of the Secwepemc remain strong. 

The diseases especially smallpox, introduced by white traders, prospectors, missionaries, miners and settlers decimated the Indigenous population, completely destroying 32 Secwepemc villages. Shortly thereafter the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly ended, the British crown authority took over and Indian reserves were established. 

It has been a very difficult period from this point through the 1900’s. From residential schools, the destructive effects of alcoholism, high mortality rates for babies, loss of children to adoption programs outside their communities, and high incarceration rates. It is a saga of overwhelming odds where many would have given up and perished but the tide is turning.

Through increasing recognition of Aboriginal Rights and Title, self management of their communities, increasing economic development programs, steps are being taken to rebuild the Secwepemc Nation. Pride of language and culture are becoming self-evident, and regaining control and responsibility for their own lands, resources and rights is stimulating further growth and development.

The Secwepmec have established a number of organizations, initiatives and associations aimed at strengthening their communities and supporting the Secwepemc perseverance. These proud people are surviving and living happily as Secwepemc on Secwepemc lands.

There numerous kekulis throughout the valley of the Shuswap.  A kekuli or pit house was built down into the ground and was circular. Central poles about 6 to 8 inches in diameter were placed firmly in the ground to support the roof which was made of smaller poles lashed together and ultimately covered with earth. The entry and exit was through the smoke hole in the ceiling and held fifteen to thirty persons.