“The land is me; it provides what I eat and drink. The land sustains our food Chiefs, which are required for our diet… the water to quench our body. The land buries our precious ancestors; our mother earth loves us and we love her; protect her as she does us, and we will dance and sing with her. - Nancy Allison”

We are Smelqmix

The Similkameen people have a history with the land that spans thousands of years in what is now Washington State and the Province of British Columbia. The Similkameen People were originally a nomadic people that moved from location to location, mainly due to the ever changing availability of foods and climates.

There were certain criteria that had to be met, for an encampment or village site to be located. The potential areas had to have look-out points, nearby food and water sources, wood availability, and hunting grounds .

The original Native Encampment in the Keremeos area was located where Bear’s Fruit Stand now presides.  The population of this encampment has been estimated to be between 800 – 1000 people.  This encampment had a good water supply, had good look-out points, and was easily defended.  There was another encampment located nearby, at what is now the Rocking Chair Ranch.  This encampment had an estimated 500 people living there.  They had a fresh-water spring, that provided an excellent source of water.  Also at this location, was a plentiful supply of reeds and tulies.

Before and upon contact with Non-Natives, the dwellings that the Similkameen people stayed in consisted of pit houses, tulie shelters, ntamlken lodges, and winter kickwillies. pit houses were made of wood and hemp.  Tulie shelters were made of reeds, wood and hemp.  ntamlken lodges were made with reeds, wood and hemp rope.  Summer lodges were made of poles and fir boughs.  winter kickwillies were made of poles, grass, bark, tulies, and skins of animals.

Originally, the Similkameen people had a social structure which was governed by a line of Hereditary Chiefs within the greater community.  Each village was led by a Chief that cared for the particular needs of that village.  Advisors known as Wise/Good Men and Women assisted the Chiefs with the difficult decisions that had to be made.

Prior to Contact with Non-Natives, the Similkameen people would gather seasonally to trade goods with Neighbouring Tribes.  Depending on which season it was, the locations would vary.  At these different sites, the number of people that gathered to trade could number anywhere from 2000 – 5000 people.  At these trading sites, sometimes the different tribes would compete in games as a form of social gathering and also to demonstrate their strength as a people.

The coming of Non-Natives to the Similkameen can be mainly attributed to the expansion of the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company, not to mention Missionaries that were sent to live amongst the native population.  Sometime after this, more Non-Natives settled in the Similkameen area during the Gold Rush.