I had a great conversation with Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation the other day. We talked about everything from colonization and residential schools, to language, to cultural appropriation. The interview below is just an excerpt of our conversation focused on language and identity.
The Squamish Nation is one of 3 nations that call Burrard Inlet home. The others are the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh. For thousands of years this shores of the Burrard Inlet were managed and shared collectively among various Coast Salish people.
Today, the Squamish govern their territory through a council of 16 elected officials that has essentially supplanted the traditional system of 16 hereditary chiefs. Historically, there was great care and concern with managing the land as a resource and each of the chiefs would be responsible for a local area or resource. When Europeans first arrived the combination of the gold rush mentality that sees the land as a vacant resource for the taking (and all the accompanying environmental destruction that goes along with it), disease such as small pox that decimated entire villages, and the intentional cultural genocide through missionary work and residential schools the Squamish nation was left in peril by the time the last residential school on the North Shore was closed in 1956 and the system of hereditary governance was no longer effective.
A slow but deliberate process is taking place to revitalize the Squamish and other local nations. With steps like naming rights, language programs at places like SFU, and the inclusion of indigenous perspectives in education the culture is becoming stronger. And with land use agreements and economic negotiations the Nation is becoming increasingly self-sufficient.
Chief Ian Campbell concludes our interview saying that, “we can’t go backwards to the way it was during my grandparent’s era. It’s about applying traditional knowledge in a modern context”.