Cowichan womantying bundle of reeds.
Cowichan woman tying reeds
© Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

There are many Coast Salish First Nations who have long and continuous ties to the Gulf Islands. The Coast Salish people have special ties to the environment—a spiritual connection to the land, the earth and the water. Their knowledge of natural systems has been passed down from generation to generation through an oral tradition.

First Nations traditional activities 

Over millennia and to this day, the forests and seas have provided them with food, materials for everyday life and places for spiritual contemplation. First Nations scientific and traditional knowledge are being used in parallel with western science to help park managers make decisions on how to restore and maintain park reserve ecosystems.

The ocean has always been their central source of food—a rich harvest of seals, sea lions, whales, six-gilled shark, porpoise, shellfish, halibut, salmon and other fish. Duck hunting, trapping, hunting deer and small mammals and the harvesting of berries and plants are done in rhythm with the seasons. First Nations can pursue traditional activities—including hunting and harvesting of plants and other materials—within the national park reserve. Parks Canada works with First Nations to ensure that these activities are done in ways that respect the conservation of species and the ecosystem, and in a manner that does not endanger the safety of other park users. Watch for the warning signboards that are placed at access points when hunting is in progress.

First Nations cultural heritage sites

''Indian'' Village
© Library and Archives Canada

First Nations people have resided in and used the Gulf Islands for thousands of years. We are reminded of their long-time presence by the layers of shells found at various sites throughout the park reserve. These tell us that First Nations people had villages or camped at these locations while they made use of local natural resources. Archaeologists are able to determine the type of use at a site by the amount of layered shell: larger deposits indicate a village site.

First Nations people value these sites as part of their history and as tangible evidence of their connection to the land. These sites are also meaningful to us all for the rich and complex perspective that they add to the history of the park reserve, and require our respect and protection. You can help by leaving them undisturbed and using the stairs provided to avoid walking on the face of the shell layers. Park managers are working with the Coast Salish people to develop protocols for caring for cultural objects and sites found within the park reserve.

If you see suspicious behaviour or witness desecration of any cultural site, please contact us. It is illegal to remove cultural objects from the park reserve; if you find artifacts, leave them in place, and notify park staff.