The Semiahmoo First Nations are Coast Salish Indigenous peoples whose homeland had always been the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, and parts of northern Washington State. They are a part of the Straits Salish, which is made up of several groups of Indigenous peoples who all speak slightly different variations of the North Straits Salish language. These groups share several traditions including reef net fishing, which is a very important part of their culture and lifestyle.
The Semiahmoo people’s territory stretches all the way from Boundary Bay to Lake Terrell in Northern Washington and out towards Fort Langley. Within their territory, they have two different types of camps; permanent and temporary. The temporary camps are generally used in the summer when it is more convenient to fish, hunt, and gather while they prepare for the winter. They would most commonly set up these camps around Crescent Beach, Point Roberts, Tongue Spit, and Birch Bay. In contrast, permanent camps are used year round and are generally not located on the beach like their temporary camps are. One of their earliest known permanent settlements dates back to before 1791, and many of these types of settlements can be traced long before Europeans started to invade their land and tried to change their ways.
In the early 1860’s, the Europeans really started to influence the lifestyles of the Semiahmoo First Nations. Indigenous peoples started taking jobs within the European society, changing the economy significantly. In 1880, the First Nations of the Georgia Strait lost their ability to net fish in Point Roberts. This was a tremendous loss for the Semiahmoo people and everyone in the Straits Salish. Reef fishing had a deep history within their culture and brought together people from many different families and villages. They fought to keep their land and their rights but were unsuccessful, and were forced to change their ways.
Today the cherished land that was once home to only those who rightfully claimed it has been built upon and used by generations of others. Our own school, Semiahmoo Secondary, is on the land of the Semiahmoo First Nations, and many of us don’t acknowledge that to the extent that we should. Moving forward, we hope more people from our generation can appreciate the Indigenous peoples and acknowledge their land - including that which we stand upon every day.
(Written by Jade Geddes | Student Council Member)