Long Standing Traditions
The Xwémalhkwu, or Homalco, First Nation are known as the people of the fast running waters. It’s the coursing waters of our traditional territories that lend this name, with the area running from Dent Island, just north of Sonora Island, travelling over to Raza Passage and extending over the entire Bute Inlet. Our main village sites were spread throughout: at the Homathko River, Southgate River, Orford Bay and the areas at the mouth of Bute Inlet.
Like other Coastal First Nation peoples, the Homalco thrived on the bounty of the ocean, lived well in the village sites, and had all other necessities for everyday living. Travelling with the seasons for gathering, hunting and fishing, the Homalco people shared in the resources throughout the territory, and above all were taught to respect the ever-so-sacred cedar tree. Its strong fibres would provide life to Homalco with clothing, shelter, baskets, canoes and hand tools as well as burial boxes. The cedar tree was an important part of everyday life, and is maintained as a symbol in our culture.
The cultural makeup of Vancouver Island is not just ours; traditionally Homalco lived alongside the Klahoose, Island Comox, Lakwiltok and Sliammon nations. In fact, the Homalco people speak a dialect of the mainland Comox language, a Coast Salish branch of the Salishan language family.
Culture Almost Lost
The first missionaries to visit Xwémalhkwu territory were the Oblate fathers in the late 1860s, and it would mark the start of a sad history for the Xwémalhkwu people. Forced to burn all regalia, masks and carvings in their possession, the Xwémalhkwu were also banned from holding ceremonies and practicing traditional songs and dances. Our ancestors spoke their language in secret to avoid consequences from the oblate fathers. It was at this point that Xwémalhkwu peoples learned and were forced to adopt Christian rituals.
In the late 1800s, our people were moved by the Oblate priests to Sonora Island onto a site known as “Muushkin” or Old Church House. Unfortunately, it was a poor location due to fierce outflow winds in the winter that directly hit the village. and most of the buildings blew down one winter in the early 1900s.
The Homalco people were then moved to the mouth of Bute Inlet within Calm Passage to “Aupe” or New Church House. Here, there was shelter from strong winds with bountiful fishing and clam beds. These village sites are no longer inhabited with the last people leaving Aupe in the early 1980’s. The Homalco still stop at Old and New Church House occasionally and if you visit Bute Inlet with us, we’ll tell a story and perhaps share a song.
By the early 1900s residential schools were formed and implemented by the Federal Government. This proves to be another sad piece of Xwémalhkwu history, as for generations our children were taken and forced to attend residential schools. At these schools Xwémalhkwu people were physically, mentally and sexually abused. The loss of family units, culture and language are still on going issues our community struggles with today.
Today the Homalco people are still stewards of the land and rely on the resources throughout the territory. We take great measures to ensure these resources are there for future generations to come, and hope to welcome guests into our traditional territories, with the goal of creating advocates for our land and their own, as well as culture and language.
We work diligently to revive and rekindle parts of our culture, namely through language, gatherings, and teachings, that were almost lost to us. By opening the doors to Homalco, we hope to spread interest and create memories for those who come to visit, while carrying forward our traditional ways of life for our youth.