Before contact with Europeans, the Tsleil-Waututh population was great, with our oral history telling us that there were up to ten thousand Tsleil-Waututh members living throughout the traditional territory. Our ancestors’ survival was dependent on cycles of hunting, harvesting and preserving foods, and on trading using our land and water transportation networks and protocols we had with our neighbors.
Our people had what is called a "seasonal round" which involved a complex cycle of food gathering, hunting, and spiritual and cultural activities that formed the heart of our culture. In the winter, community members would congregate in large villages typically located in sheltered bays. Shed-roofed houses up to several hundred feet in length were divided into individual family apartments. During the winter, our people subsisted largely on stored dried foods gathered and processed throughout the rest of the year. Our winter activities included wood carving, weaving blankets of mountain-goat wool and participating in spiritual ceremonies.
In the late spring, families would disperse to set up base camps on virtually every beach and protected cove in Tsleil-Waututh territory. Planks from the winter houses were transported by canoe and used to construct the smaller summer structures. Using these camps as a base of operations, we made excursions to hunting, fishing and gathering locations as resources became seasonally available. Some of these resources were used immediately, while others were processed and stored for use during the winter.
In mid-July or early August, most of the Tsleil-Waututh, as well as other Coast Salish groups, travelled to the Fraser River to catch and dry the most favoured type of salmon: sockeye. During this time, people would visit, exchange news of relatives and form alliances. Large volumes of many kinds of berries were also harvested and dried during the summer months.
After the Fraser River run finished in the fall, Tsleil-Waututh families would congregate in camps on the Indian, Capilano, Seymour and other rivers to fish for pink and chum salmon. Most of the catch was dried for winter use or for trade. By December families returned to their winter villages with the provisions collected throughout the year, and the yearly cycle began again.
Our Elders tell us that once Europeans arrived, a significant portion of our population was decimated through disease. There are also many stories that tell of how our people survived other difficult times―colonialism, the reserve system, and residential schools. Throughout these hard times and despite obstacles, our people helped to build Vancouver and North Vancouver, persevered in our stewardship of the lands and waters of our territory, continued practicing and passing down our language and culture however we could. We found our way through the change that was happening in the world
Now, a key goal of the Tsleil-Waututh community is to expand its participation in all planning and development processes that take place on our traditional territory so that the once-abundant resources can be restored, protected and utilized on a sustainable basis and so our culture can continue to thrive.