History of the Katzie People

The following history of their nation has been provided by the Katzie people

Long before the emergence of any other human community in the lower Fraser region, the Creator placed five communities, each with its own chief, at different locations on the land. Those locations are now known as Pitt lake, Sheridan Hill, Port Hammond, Point Roberts and Point Grey. The Katzie people are the direct descendants of these first people; the people that came to be known as the Katzie people descend primarily from Oe'lecten and his people, created at the south shore of Pitt Lake, and Swaneset and his people, created at Sheridan Hill.

During these first days after the arrival of human beings, there were few trees, and although there were clams and mussels in the rivers and along the seashore, there was no wind and there were no birds, land animals, sturgeon, salmon, oolichan or sea lions. But the Creator gave these first five leaders gifts and powers to bequeath to those that followed after them. When he placed Swaneset on the earth, the Creator provided the sun and the moon. For Oe'lecten, the Creator provided the seasons and the rainbow.

Oe'lecten was then granted a wife, and their children became the sturgeon and a white bird that can only be seen by Oe'lecten's descendants. Oe'lecten's people first settled in villages at Fox Creek, Widgeon Creek at the southwest corner of Pitt Lake, a village occupied until recently, presently known as Katzie I.R. 4.

Swaneset, honouring the Creator's instructions to finish making the territory surrounding the place he had been set down on earth, reshaped the land in order to make it abundant in berry and root crops. Standing on the peak of Sheridan Hill, which was once the highest mountain in the territory, Swaneset called on the help of the Creator, and made Sturgeon Slough and its tributaries. He then made the Alouette River and other sloughs, including Katzie Slough. Swaneset then named all these waterways, and named the river now known as the Fraser. After a time, Swaneset travelled to the sky, and returned to earth with a wife, setting down again on the peak of Sheridan Hill. From the pieces of Sheridan Hill, Swaneset created many of the distinctive hills that mark the countryside between the Fraser River and Pitt Lake. When Swaneset had finished reshaping the land to make it more abundant for his people, he then instructed all his people to gather at Katzie to make homes for themselves here, in the vicinity of the present Pitt Meadows reserve. There, on the banks of the Fraser River, his sky-born wife opened her dowry box, and ushered oolichan and seagulls into this world, and she taught the people how to catch the fish and prepare them.

By this time. the descendants of the first people had multiplied and flourished, and their descendants were establishing villages throughout the land (early accounts describe as many as 12 Katzie "tribes'. that gathered in 12 separate villages throughout what is now the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge area). Swaneset encountered some of these villages in his travels down river, during his journey to the island in the sea where he married his second wife. This woman was the daughter of a chief whose people were different from all other people on the earth. These were sockeye people. Swaneset brought his new wife back to Katzie, and in securing this relationship through marriage to the sockeye people, Swaneset assured Katzie people an abundance of sockeye for the coming generations, and since that time Katzie people have fished sockeye and other salmon species from a variety of fishing stations and seasonal villages along the Fraser, Pitt, and Alouette Rivers.

In the words of Peter Pierre, Khaals, the Great Transformer, came to the world "to finish Swaneset's work." Much of Khaals' work involves the separation of people from animals, and the creation of new species from animals.

At the mouth of the Pitt River, Khaals encountered a warrior. For his boastfulness, the warrior was turned to stone. Hearing the entreaties of the villagers that the warrior was there to protect, Khaals spared the people. The mouth of the Pitt River is known to the Katzie people for its important fishing sites, which are used to this day. Several important archaeological sites are situated around the mouth of the Pitt River, and surface artifacts are routinely discovered along the riverbank.

From the Pitt, Khaals travelled up the Alouette, where he encountered a one-legged man fishing for steelhead salmon. At the close of this encounter, Khaals turned the man to stone; the "stone man" is still present, at the place now known as Davis Pool, traditionally regarded by Katzie people as a significant ceremonial site.

From the Alouette River, Khaals turned back towards the Pitt River and encountered some of Swaneset's people on the on the meadows near Sheridan Hill, and turned then into suckerfish. All around the Sheridan Hill area, and the 'Pitt Polder' area, and around the mouth of Pitt Lake, Khaals encountered more people, and changed each in turn into various animals for the use and benefit of the Katzie People.

Khaals visited the ancestral village site first established by Oe'lectan, in the immediate vicinity of what is now Grant Narrows Regional Park, and found Oe'lecten is still the chief there.

Khaals told Oe'lecten, "I have travelled all through this country creating animals and fish for your use," and set about explaining to Oe'lecten the proper ways of harvesting these resources (Khaals specifically identifies the fish resources of both the Alouette and the North Alouette Rivers as being for Oe'lecten's use).

Khaals encountered people at what is now I.R. 4, on the west side of Grant Narrows, and changed some of them into seals.

Khaals then made a brief visit to Swaneset and his people, and found them "flourishing and content". Khaals also found people living on Barnston Island, and shortly thereafter, Khaals "disappeared up the Fraser River, but whither he went no man knows."

In the period immediately following Khaals' transformation of land and resources, and his establishment of corresponding laws governing land use and resource-harvesting, the descendants of Oe'lecten and Swaneset, the Katzie people, thrived in their newfound wealth and security, and further developed customary laws governing resource-sharing and resource conservation.

In the time that followed Khaals, all of the lands and resources within Katzie territory were soon fully utilized.

The people grew in number, until at times "the smoke from their morning fires covered the country with a pall of smoke," in Peter Pierre's words.

Until the period immediately before the first smallpox epidemic of the 1700s, there were times when "the smoke of their fires floated over the valley like a dense fog." Before the smallpox, and subsequently introduced diseases, the Katzie people were a comparatively large 'tribe' or 'nation'. The Katzie people had developed their own cartography. Within the oral tradition, and developed an extensive nomenclature to locate and identify streams, rivers, berry bogs, valleys, mountains and mountain peaks. It is in this nomenclature, particularly in the Pitt River drainage basin, that the Katzie identity with the territory becomes conclusive: the name for the Pitt River translates as 'River of the Katzie'; Pitt Lake translates as 'Lake of the Katzie', etc.

Apart from the conventional economic and sustenance pursuits associated with the aboriginal peoples of this coast, the Katzie people practiced a form of agriculture in the cultivation of cranberries and particularly in the cultivation and harvesting of a potato-like tuber known as wapato.

Some wapato ponds were hundreds of feet in length, scattered through the marshy areas of Katzie territory in named and owned tracts. Some tracts were owned by the Katzie collectively; other tracts were owned and carefully managed by individual families (similar to the arrangements that prevailed in the Katzie cranberry resources). Production required great care and attention, and the harvest was undertaken from canoes, or by 'dancing', wading through the shallows and treading on the plants until the roots floated to the surface.

Hudson Bay Company officials, after arriving in the early 1820s on the Fraser River, observed hundreds of native families travelling to the Katzie territory in the autumn months to assist in the wapato harvest. Rather than being simply a casual resource-gathering activity, the wapato harvest should be regarded for what it was: agriculture. The Katzie were proud of their renowned wapato, and it was obviously a valuable 'trade commodity'. It was the presence of an effective customary law governing the ownership and distribution of the wapato resource that allowed such harvests as those described by Simon Pierre and observed by HBC officials. Directed harvest of saltwater resources by Katzie people, either through reciprocal relationships with saltwater people or long-standing rights of access, was an occasional practice. It was likely more common that neighbouring First Nations transported shellfish and other saltwater resources to Katzie, as friends and relatives do to this day (subsequent population declines, confinement to reserves and land pre-emption by non-native settlers brought an end to Katzie's traditional agrarian pursuits).

More than any other aspect of settlement by non-natives, epidemic diseases, for which native peoples held no immunity, served to diminish the size and influence of the Katzie people in the Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge area. After smallpox came tuberculosis, Spanish influenza, measles and a variety of other ailments to which the Europeans had developed resistance. As a result of these and other factors, the Katzie people, by the 1990s, had been reduced to about 400 individuals, about half of whom live on three reserves, in Pitt Meadows, on Barnston Island, and on the Fraser at Langley. Katzie's two other reserves consist of a parcel of land opposite the boat launch at Grant Narrows, and a small cemetery in Maple Ridge. The reserves were established in the colonial period, and later adjusted and confirmed in the 1880s and in 1916. The Katzie community is growing, however, and is continuing its efforts to preserve a place for itself in its traditional territory. Katzie maintains a strong local presence in the salmon fisheries, and Katzie people continue to hunt throughout the territory and utilize the landscape as best they can.