ETHNONYMS: Shihwapmukh, Suxwapmux
The Shuswap now live on a number of reserves attached to the Kamloops-Okanagan and Williams Lake agencies in south-central British Columbia in the general area from Kamloops to Revelstoke in parts of the drainages of the Fraser, Thompson, and upper Columbia rivers. They speak an Interior Salish language related to Lillooet, Thompson, and Okanagon and number about four thousand today. First contact with Europeans was probably with Alexander Mackenzie in 1793 and then with Simon Fraser in 1808, with sustained contact beginning about 1816 through involvement in the fur trade with the Hudson's Bay Company. As with other groups in the region, the traditional culture was much changed by the influx of gold miners and settlers in 1858 and the subsequent epidemics that decimated the Shuswap population. Currently, traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, and trapping are still carried on, though the staple foods are now store-bought potatoes, flour, rice, and beans.
In 1900 the Shuswap were described as being comprised of nineteen bands organized into seven divisions. The divisions were territorial units, with the bands being the basic Political units. The seven divisions are no longer recognized, and the nineteen bands are recognized as synonymous with the reserves they occupy. The Shuswap as a whole were never organized as a cohesive political unit. Traditionally, bands had a chief as well as chiefs for war, the hunt, and dance. The bands residing in the northern and western reaches of Shuswap territory were greatly influenced by Northwest Coast groups in the nineteenth century and developed a Social class system with nobles, commoners, and slaves. The bands in the southern and eastern regions were not so influenced, but they too had slaves, obtained through trade and warfare. Although the Shuswap never warred as an organized group, individual bands fought with other groups, including the Cree, Sekani, Okanagon, Beaver, and Assiniboin. The Shuswap were more sedentary than groups to the south, spending much of the year in large semisubterranean earthlodges. Today, these lodges have been replaced by canvas tents and log cabins.
Salmon was the staple food for groups near streams, while other groups relied more on hunting deer, elk, moose, bear, and mountain sheep. Both fish and animal meat were dried and smoked. Women collected roots, bulbs, various fruits, nuts, and other plant foods. The traditional religion was animistic, with the vision quest for guardian spirits by adolescent boys being especially important. These spirits were the major sources of power for shamans in their curing and other rites. The mythology was similar to that of other Plateau groups and included dwarfs, giants, cloud people, wind people, Coyote, the trickster, and Old One, a creator.
Brow, James B. (1972). Shuswap of Canada. New Haven: Hraflex Books, Human Relations Area Files.
Palmer, Gary B. (1975). "Shuswap Indian Ethnobotany." Syesis 8:29-81.
Teit, James A. (1909). The Shuswap. American Museum of Natural History, Memoir no. 4, 447-758. New York.