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Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

History/Culture

Kw΄seltktenéws: we are all family, human and natural world
Knucwentsút: help yourself and help each other
Étsxem: know your personal gifts and spiritual power
Méllelc: rest to renew yourself

Credit: Journey Through Secwepemculew Dr. Marianne Ignace

Prior to contact with Europeans near the end of the 18th century, the Secwepemc people lived in south central British Columbia on lands that covered approximately 180,000 square kilometres or 56,000 square miles.

Cover of Handbook for Educators of Aboriginal Students
Handbook for Educators of Aboriginal Students

In Secwepemctisin, the Secwepemc language, this territory is known as Secwepemculew. Their traditional territorial boundaries were the Columbia River valley on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the Fraser River in the west, the upper Fraser River in the north, and the southern Arrow Lakes.

The Secwepemc, or Shuswap Nation consisted of 30 separate and independent Bands where members created an alliance to manage the use of land and resources and to protect their communities. Although members of each Band had some of their own traditions, the common language of Secwepemctsin and the four values of Kw΄seltktenéws, Knucwentsút, Étsxem, and Méllelc united the Secwepemc people. Their common beliefs, language and cultural practices were shared through an oral tradition, strong family relationships, and the knowledge of Elders. Today, there are almost 7000 Secwepemc people in the territory that consists of 17 Bands.

Nurse scholars, Annette Browne and Colleen Varcoe, state that we often limit our view of culture to lists of characteristics or practices such as beliefs, values, language, and traditional practices of people who lived or live within a certain geographical area. Although these lists include important aspects of culture, focusing on them as our understanding of culture perpetuates stereotypes and assumptions which create misunderstandings and the view that these lists predetermine a person’s culture, and therefore their experience and their behaviour. The consequences of a limited view of culture often lead to the demeaning and devastating effects of racism.

A broader description of culture includes the understanding that factors such as socioeconomics, politics, education and history influence a person’s cultural orientation. We support the broader and more complex understanding of culture. For more information on this broader understanding of culture you can read Browne, A.J. & Varcoe, C. (2006) Critical cultural perspectives and health care involving Aboriginal peoples. Contemporary Nurse, 22(2) 155-167.