ETHNONYMS: Knife Indians, Snare, Thompson River Indians

The Thompson (Nlaka'pamux, Ntlakyapamuk) are an American Indian group who live on the Fraser and Thompson rivers in south-central British Columbia. They speak an Interior Salish language closely related to Shuswap and numbered 2,647 in 1967, an increase from the 1902 estimate of 1,825. Internally, they were divided into the Lower Thompson, who lived from just below Spuzzum on the Fraser River nearly to the village of Cisco and the Upper Thompson, whose towns extended from the latter point nearly to Lillooet on the Fraser River, to within a short distance of Ashcroft on the Thompson River, and in the Nicola Valley. Today, about fifteen bands live in the area. The Thompson were probably first contacted by Simon Fraser during his explorations in 1809. The traditional culture was modified by influences from Victoria established in the 1840s, the gold miners and settlers who arrived in increasing numbers in the 1850s, and the smallpox epidemics of 1863 and the 1880s which reduced the aboriginal population of about 5,000. By the turn of century, most Thompson were somewhat assimilated into European-Canadian society, as they moved into areas of White settlement where they worked as wage laborers and farmed, hunted, and fished.

The traditional bands were individual groups of related families with hereditary chiefs with limited authority. More powerful were the councils composed of mature men. Salmon was the staple food, often caught from wooden fishing stages built over fish runs, with dip nets and spears used as well as traps and weirs. The salmon were dried on poles. Various mammals such as deer, bear, beaver, and elk were hunted, and women collected berries, fruits, roots, and nuts.

Traditionally, the Thompson were seminomadic. In the summer, mat tipis (and later canvas tipis and then tents) were moved to different hunting grounds and berry patches as the season progressed. They also used more permanent semisubterranean earthlodges. The material culture included birchbark canoes, coiled baskets, drums, double-curved bows, snowshoes, goat wool and rabbit fur blankets, and skin clothing.

Pubescent girls were segregated in small tipis, and dome-shaped sweat lodges covered with mats or canvas were also used. The latter were used by adolescent boys during their quest for guardian spirits. Shamans and curers worked with the aid of these spirits, which were generally animal in nature. The Thompson believed in numerous deities, a major one being the Chief of the Dead. Important ceremonials were the puberty rites for girls, the First Salmon Ceremony, and rious dances.


Teit, James A. (1898). Traditions of the Thompson River Indians. American Folklore Society, Memoir no. 6. Philadelphia, Pa.

Teit, James A. (1900). The Thompson Indians of British Columbia. American Museum of Natural History Memoirs, vol. 2, 163-392. New York.

Tepper, Leslie H., ed. (1987). The Interior Salish Tribes of British Columbia: A Photographic Essay. Canadian Museum of Civilization, Mercury Series, Canadian Ethnology Service, Paper no. 111. Ottawa.

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