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History of Victoria & First Nations

eagleThe province of British Columbia boasts the highest Indigenous diversity than anywhere else in Canada. There are three main First Nations language groups on Vancouver Island: the Coast Salish, the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Kwakwaka’wakw. The capital city, Victoria, is the home of the Lekwungen People who are also known has the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. Lekwungen is the original language of this land, and the traditional culture has been here for thousands of years.

The Lekwungen People have hunted and gathered here for thousands of years. This area, with its temperate climate, natural harbours and rich resources, was a trading centre for a diversity of First Peoples. When Captain James Douglas anchored off the Clover Point in 1842, he saw the result of the Lekwungen People’s careful land management, such as controlled burning and food cultivation. These practices were part of the land and part of the Lekwungen culture.

The development of a modern city there makes it more difficult to experience the landscape that is home to the Lekwungen. However, footprints of traditional land use are all around us, and this land is inseparable from their lives, customs, art and culture of those who have lived here from the beginning. The hills, creeks and marshlands shaped the growth of the city of Victoria. There are messages in the landscape here; oral histories, surviving traditional place names and the soil itself are all ancient stories waiting to be told.

The Victoria Capital Region encompasses the traditional territories of nine Coast Salish First Nations bands (Esquimalt, Songhees, Pauquachin, Tseycum, Tsawout, Tsartlip, Scia’new, T’souke and Malahat), and one Nuu-chah-Nulth First Nations band (Pacheedaht). Traditionally, each First Nations village lived in a distinct way of life in terms of their traditional governance and ceremony. In 1876 the Canadian government, through the Indian Act, imposed a Band Council system, of government for First Nations. As a result, elected Chief and Councils govern our communities under the terms of the Indian Act.

All of these groups belong to the broader language group call Coast Salish.

The Eagle is a very important spiritual animal to the people of the Northwest Coast, is generally a symbol of power, intelligence and loyalty. Eagle down represents peace and friendship.

The Indigenous People of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia believe that they are surrounded at all times by supernatural beings interfering with the natural world. These supernatural beings are known to transform into other beings and Humans at will.

The Transformation Mask shown here depicts an Eagle opening and transforming into a Human. The design was created by Gitxsan/Musqueam artist, Ray Sim Sr. to represent change within Aboriginal Youth in Care, and their transformation into strong, proud, healthy adults and Community members.