Before the arrival of settlers, ancestors of the Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB) members hunted, fished, gathered, trapped, travelled and lived in and around the Nicola Valley. Today, the community has 1,225 members, with about 66 per cent making less than $15,000 per year1.
Recently, LNIB has been working to identify places of importance throughout the traditional territory2. Members are relearning and recording place names and working to identify and map areas of importance. The work also involves archival research at repositories such as the Royal British Columbia Museum and Archives. Records from these repositories have played a big part in many projects.
The biggest challenge that the community has faced is finding documents that are specific enough to demonstrate LNIB connections to the many places throughout their territory that they used both in the past and today. On the surface, the published works of ethnographers such as James Teit, Harlan Smith and Charles Hill-Tout provide a rich source of information about past activities and connections. Looking closer it is clear that these published works, as rich as they are, still lack the details needed to adequately demonstrate the complex relationship between LNIB and the lands and resources that they use. To ground LNIB knowledge back to the land we have turned back to primary sources at the BC Archives and are piecing together a more complete understanding of the Nłeʔkepmx cultural landscape.
Records at the BC Archives
Many records held by the BC Archives have been relevant to LNIB efforts to anchor knowledge back to the Indigenous cultural landscape. In this article we would like to highlight how a few of these records have been useful to our work. Using the example of knowledge of hunting in LNIB asserted territory, we consider the value of these records below.
James Teit’s comprehensive study “The Thompson Indians of British Columbia” was published in the Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History in April 19003. From this source we get a general idea of the extent of Nłeʔkepmx hunting territory, and the methods, tools and purpose of hunting are well described. This published source, however, does not identify site-specific areas used for hunting by LNIB.
We next turned to the archives for associated primary documentation related to Teit’s work. In Franz Boas’ papers relating to American Indian linguistics (MS-1425)4 LNIB found specific details absent from the published sources. For example, LNIB found a notebook entitled “Indian words taken from first manuscript on the Thompson Indians”, that allowed them to recall the Nłeʔkepmxcin words for animals and hunting tools5. In other notebooks Teit sketched people and items such as canoes, and recorded and mapped many place names—including a few areas where LNIB members traditionally hunted.
In addition to Teit’s material, LNIB examined other ethnographic records found in various collections, including documents from:
- Written notes of Wilson Duff. GR-2809.
- Selected manuscripts re: Indian languages. MS-0518.
- Newcombe family papers. MS-1077.
While detailing the value of each of these collections is beyond the reach of this article, each of these additional sources have contributed to LNIB’s growing understanding of the use of different parts of their territory for hunting, fishing, gathering and other purposes.
In addition to the review of ethnographic records at the archives, the review of historic newspapers is what really led to other interesting finds. LNIB often came across articles about changes in provincial game laws that impacted their ability to hunt and fish, local notices prohibiting such activities in particular areas, and records of infractions for hunting and fishing. These historic articles helped the community show how members struggled to continue to carry out their traditional hunting activities on the land and to highlight areas of conflict.
Provincial Game Warden Records
The search finally brought LNIB to review the provincial game warden records (GR-0446). This extensive collection includes many documents that were of interest to the work, including daily deputy game warden reports and provincial game warden correspondence. LNIB found references to members fined for fishing or hunting and information about the location of hunting camps and favourite hunting grounds that were regularly patrolled by the game warden.
Records at the Royal BC Museum
The Royal BC Museum’s Human History collections are extensive and the materials provide physical evidence of our culture and use of the land. LNIB examined the museum’s archaeology and ethnology collections and, using these records, found photos and objects that have helped in efforts to ground cultural knowledge. The ethnology collection contains many items from the Plateau region that we are using to show the importance of hunting to our community. The archaeology collection allows us to cross-reference artifacts and accession records with known archaeological sites in our traditional territory. Sites known to be associated with hunting activities contain physical evidence such as chipped points and flakes.
Our museum research to date has focused on Teit’s work, and we have been comparing it to collection work that he undertook for other organizations8. The accession lists, correspondence, unpublished notes, photos and illustrations that LNIB has found provide a more comprehensive understanding of the Nłeʔkepmx cultural landscape than we found in published sources. We are encouraged to have encountered archivists along the way such as those at the museum and archives who have facilitated access to collections, and who appreciate the importance of these records to our community. In turn, LNIB has also been sharing our cultural knowledge with repositories so that they may also better appreciate the records and objects that they hold in trust for all.
Figure 5. Buckskin dress. Interior Salish culture, Thompson Cultural Group, Spences Bridge. RBCM 6860.
Grounding Indigenous cultural knowledge
In the past, hunting has represented an important part of LNIB use and knowledge of Nłeʔkepmx land and resources. LNIB has been using records such as those held by the museum and archives to help show our connection to the land both historically and today. Archival records obtained by LNIB from various sources complete a circle, as the knowledge is returned from the archives to the community and becomes a living part of the cultural landscape. With each new document and object identified, accessed and located, LNIB continues to ground this knowledge back to the land.