First Nations History
First Nations people thrived on this diverse and dramatic landscape centuries before Europeans arrived.
Archeological evidence dates the Aboriginal cultures back 10,000 years. In the late 18th century, it was gold that opened up the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region to the world.
Diverse lands and Tribes
The Bella Coola and Kwakiutl were coastal dwellers and lived off the sea and nearby game, while inland, the Chilcotin and Shuswap fished the mighty rivers, hunted, and gathered berries and plants for sustenance.
First Nations Commerce
The Kitasoo (Tsimshian) and Xaixias of Klemtu, on the central coast of BC, provided cordwood to fuel the steamships which travelled the inside passage. And crossing the rugged route through the Coast Mountains, these and other coastal First Nations traded oil-rich eulachons (small fish) for obsidian and furs with their inland neighbours. In 1793, Alexander Mackenzie followed this ‘grease trail’ in his quest for an overland route to the Pacific at the same time Captain George Vancouver explored the coast. European fur-traders trickled into the country, taking beaver and other furs from what was then ‘New Caledonia.’
Silyas Saunders: Elder carver
Nuxalk carver Silyas Saunders began life as a fisherman and a logger, embarking upon his carving career as he approached 60. Today, people from all over the world arrive at Silyas’ Gallery at the Four Mile Reserve in Bella Coola to view his masks, some of which are in the traditional style, while others relate to ancient Nuxalk myths. Silyas is one of the last generation to speak the Nuxalk language and at 68 was the first international artist to be awarded the prestigious Native Artist Fellowship from the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City in 1999.