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Squamish Indians

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A considerable tribe of Salishan linguistic stock, speaking a distinct language, holding the territory about Squamish River and Howe Sound, above Fraser River in South-western British Columbia. From possibly 2000 souls a century ago they have dwindled, by smallpox visitation in 1862 and from results of earlier dissipation, to 690 in 1890, and to 396 in 1910, on six small reservations under the Fraser river agency, viz. Mission or Burrard Inlet (219), False Creek, Kapilano Island, Burrard Inlet No. 3, Squamish or Howe Sound, and Seymour Creek. The Squamish are first mentioned by the voyager, Vancouver, who met and traded with them in 1792, but regular contact with the whites dates from the establishment of the Hudson Bay Company trading posts in Lower British Columbia (1810-20). The earliest missionary worker was Father (afterwards bishop) Modeste Demers, who made a short missionary visit to the Lower Fraser in 1841. In 1857 the work of civilization and Christianization was regularly taken up by the Oblates-among them Fathers Casimir Chirouse, Léon Fouquet, and Pierre Durieu — with such success that the entire tribe is long since civilized and almost entirely Catholic. The educational work is in charge of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus at the Squamish Mission, Burrard Inlet, by whom, according to the official report (1910), "every attention and care possible is being bestowed on the children". The Indians are described as subsisting by farming, fishing, hunting, lumbering, and labouring, with good dwellings and stock well cared for; very industrious and of good morals, excepting a few intemperates. In this connection Hill-Tout says: "Many of them have today, I am told, snug little sums judiciously invested by their good friend and spiritual director, the late Bishop Durieu, in safe paying concerns. It is only fair to say, however, that they deserve to be prosperous. They are probably the most industrious and orderly band of Indians in the whole province, and reflect great credit upon the Roman mission established in their midst."

In their primitive condition the Squamish resembled, in their leading characteristics, the Sechelt, Songish, Lillooet, and other Salishan tribes of Southern British Columbia. They lived chiefly by fishing, their main dependence being the salmon. They also hunted the deer with dogs, driving the deer into the water and there shooting it from canoes. Roots and wild berries completed their commissary. Their ordinary houses were enormous communal structures from 20 to 40 feet in width and from 200 or 300 even to 600 feet in length, built of cedar planks, each family having its own separate fire and sleeping platform. Back from the coast they had also the communal semi-subterranean round house of the interior tribes. In household furnishing, baskets, of which they had a great variety, predominated. Their greatest skill was displayed in the shaping of their great dug-out cedar canoes, of which they had several types. Like their neighbours the tribe was divided into nobles, commons, and slaves. Chiefship was hereditary, each village being independent of the others. Polygamy was common. The dead were buried in boxes or canoes, laid upon the surface of the ground, and there were many peculiar mourning regulations, particularly as concerned the widow. Abortion was common and female infants were deliberately strangled by wholesale. A suitor signified his purpose by sitting beside the door of the girl's house for four days and nights without eating or drinking. The "potlatch", or ceremonial gift distribution, was the great intertribal festival; an instance is on record where over 2000 persons sat down to the feast and goods to the value of $5000 were given away. The puberty ordeal for girls included a four days' complete abstinence from food or drink, followed by an agonizing scratching over the whole body with thorny brambles. There were hypnotic dance performances and a barbarous dance common also to several other tribes, in which the principal dancer held in his hands a live dog which he devoured piecemeal as he danced. According to their cosmogony the human race sprang from a race of animals with semi-human characteristics, the world being afterwards made fit for human occupation by four brother culture heroes. The best summary of their mythology and analysis of the language is that given by Hill-Tout. See also LILLOOET INDIANS, SECHELT INDIANS, SONGISH INDIANS.


HILL-TOUT, Notes on the Skqomic in Rept. Brit. Assn. Advancement Sci. (70th meeting, London, 1900); IDEM, Cosmogony and History of the Skuamish in Trans. and Proc. Roy. Canada, 1897-98, Section II, 2nd series, IV (Montreal, 1898); BANCROFT, Hist. Brit. Columbia (San Francisco, 1887); Canada Dept. Ind. Affairs, Annual Rept. (Ottawa); MORICE, Catholic Church in Western Canada (2 vols., Toronto, 1910); VANCOUVER, Voyage of Discovery, etc., 1790-5 (6 vols., London, 1801).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1912). Squamish Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Squamish Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Calvin H. Marousch. Dedicated to my father Franklin Marousch.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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