Surrey is a melting pot of different cultures and people from around the globe. Some of the city’s most influential and impactful groups are the people who have loved it from the beginning: the Indigenous Peoples of Surrey. Did you know that Surrey is home to the largest urban Indigenous population in all of British Columbia? More than 13,000 Surrey residents are Indigenous peoples, representing First Nations, Metis, or Inuit.
The City of Surrey recognizes that it resides on the unceded traditional territories of the Semiahmoo (pronounced semi-AH-moo), Katzie (KUT-zee), Kwikwetlem (Kway-quit-lum), Kwantlen (Kuh-want-lin), Qayqayt (Kay-Kite), and Tsawwassen (ta-WASS-en) First Nations. These nations descend from a larger cultural group called the Coast Salish.
The Semiahmoo Nation calls South Surrey home. Prior to Spanish and European settlers, the Semiahma people were originally located across both Surrey and Washington State. They would spend the winter in locations closest to the water, like modern-day Crescent Beach and Semiahmoo Bay, and the summer in places like Tsawwassen and Point Roberts. Now divided between the two countries, the nation mainly resides by the Little Campbell River on the Semiahmoo Indian Reserve, with those living on the American side becoming the Lummi and Nooksack nations. To learn more about the Semiahma people and their history, please visit their website.
The Katzie First Nation people have an extensive history dating back thousands of years. The nation gets its name, “the land of moss”, from the ancestral story of how their people built their traditional village site with q̓ ic̓əy̓ (moss) and how the eulachon (candlefish) were first released into the Fraser River. It is at the heart of Katzie culture that the land cares for them, just as they care for the land. They say that the grounds and waters of q̓ ic̓əy̓ territory have their teachings “written on the land”, meaning that the Katzie are constantly reminded of who they are and what they are connected to. Visit their website to learn more about the Katzie history and their values.
The kʷikʷəƛ̓ əm are descended from ancestors who lived life as spirit and winter dancers, builders of wonderfully crafted canoes, and expert fishers of sturgeon and salmon. The nation believes that land is essential to every aspect of life, in the past, present, and future, and that they are guided by teachings to use and take care of the grounds, waters, and sky. The name kʷikʷəƛ̓ əm means “red fish up the river”, drawing inspiration from the spring sockeye salmon run prior to the construction of the Coquitlam Dam. Elders tell stories about these annual runs, where the fish used to be so plentiful that it would become difficult to control your canoe. The kʷikʷəƛ̓ əm name reflects the deep connection that the nation has held to the lands, rivers, and lakes for over 10,000 years. For more information about the Kwikwetlem Nation, and their love for salmon, visit their website.
Health, happiness, humbleness, generations, generosity, forgiveness and understanding. These are the 7 traditional laws that guided the Kwantlen ancestors and continue to drive the Kwantlen peoples today. Qʼʷa:n̓ ƛʼən̓ (English: Kwantlen) is the Halkomelem word for “tireless runner”. The Kwantlen nation continues to work tirelessly at building a strong and inclusive sense of community within their territory. One of the ways that they remain connected to their land is by being committed to environmental sustainability that will preserve and protect nature for generations. If you want to learn more about Qʼʷa:n̓ ƛʼən̓ history and their traditions, please see their website.
The Qayqayt First Nation (pronounced Kay-Kite) has a history which is truly unique. This nation, with only 15 registered members, is the only first nations community in BC without a current land base. Having traditional territory in what is now New Westminster and North Surrey, the nation was one of the several villages along the Fraser River used as a fishing and hunting base, along with picking cranberries. After 1916, due to an act which authorised the removal and elimination of first nation reserves throughout the province, and the smallpox epidemic, the community was reduced to only 100 members and most of the reserve land was eliminated. Less than a few decades later, the Qayqayt peoples were placed on the Inactive General List of Reserves. In 1994, Rhonda Larrabee, after receiving her status card as a member of the nation, became the first documented person of the First Nation since 1951. Larrabee, is now Chief and is working to gain back the recognition and the traditions of the Qayqayt people.
Derived from Halkomelem, Tsawwassen means “land facing the sea” which perfectly describes the traditional territory of this nation as they expanded through all of Surrey, all the way down to Crescent Beach and overlooking the waters beyond to Point Roberts. The sc̓əwaθən məsteyəxʷ people fished and ate salmon, sturgeon, crab, and eulachon (candlefish), which remains a major aspect of their lifestyle. For more about the sc̓əwaθən məsteyəxʷ Nation’s history and self-governance, visit their website!