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Tsilhqot'in baby cradle (UBC2010a).jpg
Traditional Tsilhqot'in baby cradle
Total population
4,100 (2008)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Canada ( British Columbia)
English, Tsilhqot’in
Christianity, Animism
Related ethnic groups

The Tsilhqot'in (/ɪlˈktɨn/ chil-KOH-tin;[2] also spelled Chilcotin, Tsilhqut'in, Tŝinlhqot’in, Chilkhodin, Tsilkótin, Tsilkotin) are a First Nations people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group that live in British Columbia, Canada. They are the most southern of the Athabaskan-speaking aboriginal peoples in British Columbia.


Pre Contact[edit]

There was an extensive trade network, which included Salmon traded from the coast of BC to Cree territories in the East that the Chilcotin were involved in. Fish oil was also a commodity of interest.

European trade[edit]

The Tsilhqot’in first encountered Europeans trading goods in the 1780s and 1790s when British and American ships first came to the northwest coast seeking sea otter pelts. By 1808, a fur-trading company out of Montreal called the North West Company had established posts in the Carrier (Dene) territory just north of the Tsilhqot’in and trade began face to face and through Carrier intermediaries. A fur trade fort was established by what had become the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821 at Fort Alexandria on the Fraser River, at the eastern limit of Tsilhqot’in territory, and became their major source for European goods.


The isolated position of the Tsilhqot’in may have protected them from the first of the European smallpox epidemics which spread up from Mexico in the 1770s. Likewise, they may have been spared the smallpox epidemic of 1800 and the measles of the 1840s. Furniss in "The Burden of History" states that "there is no direct evidence that these smallpox epidemics reach the central interior of British Columbia or the Secwepemc, Carrier, or Tsilhqot'in." However, in the epidemic of 1836-38 the epidemic spread to Ootsa Lake, which killed an entire Carrier band. As stated evidence is lacking as to how it affected these groups.

Other disease[edit]

The Burden of History goes on to explain the major diseases that struck periodically:

  • Whooping cough 1845
  • Measles 1850
  • Small Pox 1855 (From infected blankets from the Thompson River area)
  • Smallpox 1862-1863 (Reduced BC aboriginal population by 62% - completely wiped out six Secwepemc bands 850 people; 2/3rds of the Secwepemc population died, half of the 14 Fraser River Bands became extinct.)

Fur trade[edit]

Gold rush and European settlement[edit]

By the 1860s, miners panned along the Fraser, Quesnel, and Horesefly Rivers, and their tributaries. Various business operators and merchants followed the miners, and with them farmers and ranchers to provision the mining towns that built up around the merchants. This led to competition for resources between the Chilcotin and Europeans, leading to a stream of events known as the Chilcotin War.

The reserves[edit]

Douglas supported a system of reserves and indoctrination to "civilized" practices such as subsistence agriculture up until his retirement in 1864. Joseph Trutch, the chief commissioner of lands and works, abandoned the reserve policy, and set Indian policy as their having no rights to the land. By 1866, BC colonial rule required natives to request permission from the Governor to use lands. Newspapers supported the preempting of native lands, seeing settlers ploughing native burial grounds. Natives who requested redress from a Justice of the Peace were refused leave.

Environmental problems[edit]

In the 1870s, the loss of hunting territories, and crashes of the Salmon runs placed more dependence on agricultural produce such as grains, hay, and vegetables. Activities migrated to cutting hay, constructing irrigation ditches, and practicing animal husbandry. Settlers however assumed water rights, making agriculture ever more fragile. Natives were huddled in on small acreages, such as with Canoe Creek, 20 acres for 150 natives. Starvation became a threat.

Canadian government set to reallocate land back to natives[edit]

In contrast to the 160 to 640 acres per family set aside in other treaties at the time in the Prairies, the Federal Government opted for 80 acres per native family to be set aside in reserve, while the provincial government was keen on 10 acres per family.

Catholic missionaries and the residential schools[edit]

Catholic Missionaries arrived to convert the Natives, and by 1891, the first group of students were sent to receive formal education. The program continued for the next 6 decades up until the point natives were allowed into the public school system. 90 years after the start of the program, the mission school closed circa 1981. Over the period, Indian agents were empowered to remove children from homes to attend the mission school. This led some to attempt to hide their children by sneaking out to hunting grounds or fields. Children fled the schools, and within the first 30 years, 3 investigations on the physical abuse and malnutrition were conducted; however, the Natives were said to be "wild", deserving the treatment.


Voting rights in Canadian Federal Elections were denied until 1960, and in Provincial Elections until 1949.


Aside from the aboriginal communities, there are only two small unincorporated towns in the whole region: Alexis Creek and Anahim Lake. Despite its small population and isolation, the region has produced a small but very readable literature mixing naturalism with native and settler cultures. The area is accessed by Highway 20, which runs from the port town of Bella Coola, at the head of a coastal fjord in the heart of the mountains, across the mountains and plateau to the city of Williams Lake, the principal town of the Cariboo District.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linda Ruth Smith (2008), Súwh-tŝ’éghèdúdính: the Tsìnlhqút’ín Nímính Spiritual Path. A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts, In the Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria
  2. ^ "First Nations Peoples of British Columbia". Government of British Columbia – Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 

External links[edit]