‘Like a big supermarket’: The Lekwungen people lived off the land around Victoria for thousands of years

'Like a big supermarket': The Lekwungen people lived off the land around Victoria for thousands of years
WatchVictoria sits on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen people, today known as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. Their main village was in the Inner Harbour, and they harvested one of their most treasured resources in Beacon Hill Park. April Lawrence reports.

A stroll along Victoria’s scenic Inner Harbour also provides a glimpse of its past. The Lekwungen people have hunted and gathered here for thousands of years.

“You had the ocean and the beaches and the rivers and streams and the forests to provide for you. It was like a big supermarket for people back then,” said Songhees Nation Education Liaison Butch Dick.

The Inner Harbour was the site of their main village.

“The harbour was a good area for people to not only to live because it’s a protected harbour and also the Gorge waterway provided coho salmon and herring,” Dick said.

One of the most important areas for the Lekwungen people was Beacon Hill. Each spring they would harvest camas, which was one of their staple crops they used both for food and for trade.

“So by itself, it didn’t taste like anything but mixed it with soups and that sort of thing then it would be much better,” said Dick.

But with colonization in the mid-1800’s the Lekwungen people started being pushed out. First, they were moved to the other side of the harbour, then further, near to what is now Esquimalt, where the impressive Songhees Wellness Centre now stands.

This important part of the region’s past can now be seen in artwork throughout the city, including the Ogden Point Breakwater and seven spindle whorl’s designed by Dick himself.

“Spindle whorls were actually something used by our ladies who wove and knitted clothing used as a metaphor because we could say the weave of our culture,” he said.

With war canoe races making a recent return to Victoria’s harbour, and people gathering each year to share traditions on Indigenous Day, Dick says the future of the Songhees Nation is in its people.

“I would hope we focus on identity of young people and empowering young people to carry the culture into the future.”

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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