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Traditional Tsilhqot'in baby cradle
Total population
4,100 (2008)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Canada ( British Columbia)
English, Tsilhqot’in
Christianity, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Dakelh, Navajo

The Tsilhqot'in ( ;[2] also spelled Chilcotin, Tsilhqut'in, Tŝinlhqot’in, Chilkhodin, Tsilkótin, Tsilkotin) are a First Nation band government of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group that live in British Columbia, Canada. They are the most southern of the Athabaskan-speaking aboriginal peoples in British Columbia.


  • History 1
    • Pre Contact 1.1
    • European trade 1.2
    • Disease 1.3
    • Fur trade 1.4
    • Gold rush and European settlement 1.5
    • The reserves 1.6
    • Environmental problems 1.7
    • Canadian government set to reallocate land back to natives 1.8
    • Catholic missionaries and the residential schools 1.9
    • Disenfranchisement 1.10
  • Communities 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5
  • Bibliography 6


Pre Contact

There was an extensive trade network, which included Salmon traded from the coast of BC to Cree territories in the East that the Chilcotin were involved in. Fish oil was also a commodity of interest.

European trade

The Tsilhqot’in first encountered Europeans trading goods in the 1780s and 1790s when British and American ships first came to the northwest coast seeking sea otter pelts. By 1808, a fur-trading company out of Montreal called the North West Company had established posts in the Carrier (Dene) territory just north of the Tsilhqot’in and trade began face to face and through Carrier intermediaries. A fur trade fort was established by what had become the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821 at Fort Alexandria on the Fraser River, at the eastern limit of Tsilhqot’in territory, and became their major source for European goods.


List of diseases with major impacts on Tsilhqot'in populations:

  • Whooping cough 1845
  • Measles 1850
  • Smallpox 1855 (From infected blankets from the Thompson River area)
  • Smallpox 1862-1863 (Reduced BC aboriginal population by 62% - completely wiped out six Secwepemc bands 850 people; 2/3rds of the Secwepemc population died, half of the 14 Fraser River Bands became extinct.)
  • Spanish Flu 1919

The isolated position of the Tsilhqot’in may have protected them from the first of the European smallpox epidemics which spread up from Mexico in the 1770s. Likewise, they may have been spared the smallpox epidemic of 1800 and the measles of the 1840s. Furniss in "The Burden of History" states that "there is no direct evidence that these smallpox epidemics reach the central interior of British Columbia or the Secwepemc, Carrier, or Tsilhqot'in." However, in the epidemic of 1836-38 the disease spread to Ootsa Lake which killed an entire Carrier band. Details of the effects of these diseases are perhaps best documented by oral history which continues to support knowledge transfer in the region.

Fur trade

Gold rush and European settlement

By the 1860s, miners panned along the Fraser, Quesnel, and Horesefly Rivers, and their tributaries. Various business operators and merchants followed the miners, and with them farmers and ranchers to provision the mining towns that built up around the merchants. This led to competition for resources between the Chilcotin and Europeans, leading to a stream of events known as the Chilcotin War.

The reserves

Governor James Douglas supported a system of reserves and indoctrination to "civilized" practices such as subsistence agriculture up until his retirement in 1864. Joseph Trutch, the chief commissioner of lands and works, abandoned the reserve policy, and set Indian policy as their having no rights to the land. By 1866, BC colonial rule required natives to request permission from the Governor to use lands. Newspapers supported the preempting of native lands, seeing settlers ploughing native burial grounds. Natives who requested redress from a Justice of the Peace were refused leave.

Environmental problems

In the 1870s, the loss of hunting territories, and crashes of the Salmon runs placed more dependence on agricultural produce such as grains, hay, and vegetables. Activities migrated to cutting hay, constructing irrigation ditches, and practicing animal husbandry. Settlers however assumed water rights, making agriculture ever more fragile. Natives were huddled in on small acreages, such as with Canoe Creek, 20 acres for 150 natives. Starvation became a threat.

Canadian government set to reallocate land back to natives

In contrast to the 160 to 640 acres per family set aside in other treaties at the time in the Prairies, the Federal Government opted for 80 acres per native family to be set aside in reserve, while the provincial government was keen on 10 acres per family.

Catholic missionaries and the residential schools

Catholic Missionaries were sent to convert First Nations children to Christianity in a subversive attempt to stamp out Aborigeneity through assimilation. By 1891, the first group of students were sent to receive a so-called "formal" education. The program continued for the next six decades until a point when Native children were allowed into the public school system. Ninety years after the start of the Residential School program, the mission school closed circa 1981. Throughout that period, Indian agents were empowered to remove children from homes to attend St. Joseph's Mission school in 150 Mile House. This led some to attempt to hide their children by sneaking out to hunting grounds or fields. Children fled the schools, and within the first 30 years, three investigations on the physical abuse and malnutrition were conducted; however, the Natives were said to be "wild", deserving the treatment.


Voting rights in Canadian Federal Elections were denied until 1960, and in Provincial Elections until 1949.


There are two other notable Non-Reserve communities in the region: Alexis Creek and Anahim Lake.

Despite its small population and isolation, the region has produced an impressive collection of literature mixing naturalism with native and settler cultures.

The area is accessed by Highway 20, which runs from the City of Williams Lake to the port town of Bella Coola. Highway 20 westbound from Williams Lake crosses the Fraser River at Sheep Creek - thereby entering Tsilhqot'in Traditional Territory. The Highway passes over the Chilcotin Plateau, characterized by undulating grasslands, expansive Lodgepole Pine & Douglas Fir forests, a scattering of lakes, rivers, creeks & ponds, volcanic & glaciated landforms, and a magnificent backdrop of snow-covered peaks.

See also


  1. ^ Linda Ruth Smith (2008), Súwh-tŝ’éghèdúdính: the Tsìnlhqút’ín Nímính Spiritual Path. A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts, In the Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria
  2. ^ "First Nations Peoples of British Columbia". Government of British Columbia – Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 

External links

  • Tŝilhqot'in National Government
  • Tsilhqot'in Nation
  • Unjust Trial and Hanging of the Tsilhqot'in Warriors
  • Tsilhqot’in Culture
  • Tsilhqot’in Homeland by James Teit, 1909
  • The Tsilhqot'in and Their Neighbours According to James Teit, 1909
  • Tsîlhqot’in Food Supply According to James Teit, 1909
  • Tsîlhqot’in Travel and Trade by James Teit, 1909
  • Tsîlhqot’in Warfare by James Teit, 1909
  • Tsilhqot'in National Government
  • Tsilkotin Indian Tribe History
  • , ISBN 0-7748-1140-4, ISBN 978-0-7748-1140-8, pp. 119-162The Tshilqot'in, John Sutton Lutz, UBC Press, 2009, Chapter Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations


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