Traditional Foods - Hunting, Fishing & Gathering



Traditionally, hunting provided the Secwépemc people with an essential source of protein for their nutritional needs, and was significant to their traditional way of life. Each Secwépemc family had hereditary hunting grounds. Hunting was performed largely by men and was the primary focus during fall, winter, and spring; although it was done at any time there was a need for meat.

Hunting has now become more of a recreational activity for some members of the Shuswap Band, although many of the elders still prefer hunted game for their supply of meat. Hunting also remains an important social activity and is a special teaching opportunity for the younger community members to learn from their elders.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

The most abundant big game animals hunted by the Secwépemc in the Plateau region were mule deer, elk, caribou, moose, mountain sheep, mountain goat, and bear. While big game was always sought after, smaller animals and fowl provided people with additional rations of meat and were relied upon heavily during times of shortage. These animals included gophers, squirrel, groundhogs, marmots, muskrats, rabbits, porcupine, grouses and waterfowl.

Before the introduction of firearms in the nineteenth century, the Secwépemc hunted with bows and arrows. The flat bow was the most common shape; arrows were made of rose-wood and Saskatoon berry wood. Many hunting arrows had grooves running the length of the shaft, to allow more blood to escape, which assisted in the tracking of the animal. Arrowheads were made of stone until iron became available. Arrow shafts were often painted with spirals which represented lightening or “the shooting” of the thunderbird. The winged ends were often painted red half the length down the feathers, which became a distinguishing feature of Secwépemc arrows.



The Secwépemc were also known for their use of hunting dogs, which were sometimes interbred with timber wolves and coyotes. According to Teit, hunting dogs were sometimes sweat-bathed and given drinks prepared from the “Hudson Bay plant” – what is likely now known as Labrador Tea.

The Shuswap Band had a hunting area that extended on both sides of the Columbia and north, beyond Golden. Moreover, hunting often occurred on travel routes throughout the territory.

In traditional Secwépemc society, the game from the hunt was shared among the community, especially with elders who were no longer able to participate in the hunt.


Trapping and Snaring

Trapping and snaring have always played an important role in the Secwépemc search for furs and food. Prior to the fur trade, fur-bearing animals were trapped for use in clothing, ceremonial regalia, and for mats and blankets. However, when the fur trade began in the early 1800’s, animals were trapped for their furs and pelts to trade for European items.



The Shuswap word for ‘beaver’ has become the modern Shuswap word for money.

The animals that were most sought after included: marten, mink, fisher, beaver, fox, and lynx. Foxes, lynx, coyotes, and wolves were either snared or trapped. Marmots, rabbits and grouse were either snared or chased. Grizzly bears were caught in deadfall traps near their fishing areas while black bears were snared with nooses set on their trails. Before the introduction of steel traps, beavers were either hunted with spears with detachable bone points or caught in wide-meshed nets. Bag-nets were used for beaver and sometimes muskrat, and were “set at holes in the ice, to which the beaver swam when its house was disturbed.”



Fishing for the Secwépemc people was not only an essential source of food but was also intrinsic to the culture. The Plateau region provided a variety of fish for the Secwépemc people. Some of these fish include: large scale suckers, longnose suckers, grayling, northern pikeminnow, peamouth, mountain whitefish, spring trout, rainbow trout, dolly varden trout, cutthroat trout, lake trout, kokanee, ling cod, and sturgeon. Additionally, Secwépemc territory provided an abundance of salmon, primarily Chinook and Sockeye.


Man sitting on weir. Courtesy of the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society

Important fishing areas included the Fraser, Thompson, North Thompson, and South Thompson River along with their major tributaries. The Columbia River system also supplied ample salmon bed sites, which consequently attracted Secwépemc fishing parties to the area.

Traditional technologies used by the Secwépemc for fishing included long-handled dip or bag nets, harpoons and spears, leisters or three pronged spears, gill nets and weirs. Traditional fishing gear was constructed with material taken from the environment such as plant fiber, wood, bone, and stone.

Preserved fish allowed large Secwépemc groups to be sedentary over the winter and congregate in one place instead of following food resources over the land as they did during the rest of the year. Dried salmon was highly valued as a trade commodity to groups lacking a sufficient supply. The Secwépemc had many methods for processing and storing fish. Five methods of drying meat and fish were in use - by the sun’s rays; by wind, in the shade; by smoke, in the lodges; by heat from the fire; by hot air, in the sweat house, or in houses constructed like a sweathouse. Other preservation techniques involved cutting the fish into fillets and hanging it on racks to dry; roasting, drying and pounding salmon into a coarse powder, known as salmon pemmican. Salmon roe was preserved by wrapping it in bark and burying it, while salmon oil was stored in bottles made of fish skins.



Many rites of respect and thanks surround the gathering of wild medicines and food throughout B.C. and the Secwépemc are no exception. These practices continue today, for example, offerings of tobacco are a way of demonstrating respect to the plants gathered. Another practice, widespread among the Secwépemc were First Foods ceremonies. The members of the Shuswap Indian Band also used to honour the plants they gathered with these ceremonies.

The over-harvesting of key resources has always been known to be a genuine risk. As such, the conservation ethic remains strong. There were specific techniques for harvesting certain plants to ensure that the collector would not injure them.  They were enjoyed all season long and preserved by drying for use during the winter.

Lowbush Blueberries

Lowbush (Canada) blueberries : seteke7 : Vaccinium myrtilloides. Courtesy of Michael Keefer

Many berries are still found and enjoyed in the territory of the Shuswap Indian Band.

Blueberries – a popular fruit and collected over much of the Shuswap Band territory

Chokecherries – a popular fruit for eating/ canning

Cranberries – mainly used for special occasions, like Christmas.

Elderberries – were eaten with Saskatoon berries and made into jelly

Gooseberries – green and purple

Huckleberries – one of the most popular fruits for the members of the Shuswap Indian Band. Band members will travel long distances and camp out to guarantee a good berry supply.