Semiahmoo First Nation

Semiahmoo First Nation

Infobox Country
native_name = Semiahmoo First Nation
regional_languages = Salishan, English
ethnic_groups = Coast Salish
government_type = Band
leader_title1 = Chief
leader_name1 = Willard Cook (2006)
established_date1 = 1887
area_km2 = 1.26
area_sq_mi = 0.49
population_estimate = 74

Semiahmoo First Nation is a Canadian Coast Salish community located on convert|312|acre|km2|1 of land just south of White Rock, British Columbia and near the Canada-United States boundary and Peace Arch Provincial Park.


The Semiahmoo are more closely related to the Lummi and Samish peoples south of the international border, and to the Lekwammen and T'sou-ke across the Strait of Georgia, than they are to the Halq’emeylem-speaking residents of the in the Fraser Valley.

The people of the strait are united by their Salish language and by their tradition of using an elaborate reef-net system to catch sockeye salmon as they entered Juan de Fuca Strait and the Strait of Georgia from the south, on their migration to spawning grounds in the Fraser River.


Semiahmoo society did not have a formal political structure. The first nation was divided into politically and economically independent households. Each plank house held several families united by bonds of kinship.

There were also two classes -- an upper and lower -- of free men and a class of slaves. The upper-class free men had inherited privileges. Slaves were primarily war captives or the descendants of war captives.

Post-European contact

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver explored Semiahmoo and Boundary Bays. He did not encounter the Semiahmoo but did describe the ruins of a fishing camp on Point Roberts capable of containing at least 400 or 500 Inhabitants.

Shortly before 1850, their neighbours to the north, the Snokomish, were almost entirely wiped out by a smallpox epidemic. The few survivors joined the Semiahmoo and the Semiahmoo became heirs to the Snokomish territory which encircled Boundary Bay. After this time, the Semiahmoo made Crescent Beach one of their temporary summer camps.

The Semiahmoo maintained forts for protection against other First Nations and in reaction to the Hudson's Bay Company fort at Fort Langley. These fell into disrepair following the 1854 establishment of the colony of British Columbia. One such fort was discovered in the 1950s on a bluff in Ocean Park.

In 1857, British Royal Engineers established their Camp Semiahmoo which was later used as a base to survey the international border. Soldiers described the Semiahmoo as "harmless and peaceable."

By the 1860s, Roman Catholic missionaries had a successful church among the Semiahmoo and a gold rush poured settlers and miners into the area. A new trail was built to Semiahmoo Bay with Fort Langley. Smallpox epidemics in 1862 and 1888 resulted in heavy loss of life among the Semiahmoo.

Many Semiahmoo worked as loggers or charged tolls for transportation of logs across their land. Reef-netting also became commercialized until a continuous line of traps by Alaska Packers ended their industry in 1892.

The Semiahmoo Reserve was established in 1887. For much of the last half of the 20th century, convert|172|acre|km2|1 or more than half the reserve's area was leased by the band to the Municipality of Surrey for recreational purposes. This lease ended in 1998 and the band now profits from leases to a variety of organizations and individual residents. Renown Haida artist Robert Davidson works from a studio on the reserve.


In 1790, Europeans estimated the Semiahmoo population at 300. By 1854, the band’s numbers were reduced to 250 due to smallpox and warfare. In 1909 there were 38 band members in British Columbia. In 1963, the number had reached 28 and then just 25 by 1971. Between 1996 and 2001, the reserve population dropped 34.5 per cent, from 200 people to 131.

The Semiahmoo remain one of the smallest First Nations in the region with about 74 band members, of which 40 live on Reserve. In fact, Semiahmoo has more non-Aboriginals living on its reserve than band members.

As of 2003, the median age of the Semiahmoo population is 42.5 years of age, higher than the average for all people living on Indian Reserves in Greater Vancouver (39.2 years of age).

Treaty negotiations

A June 2003 report for the Greater Vancouver Regional District indicated that the Semiahmoo First Nation is not affiliated with any tribal council and is not involved in treaty negotiations.

However, a 2007 newspaper article said that the Semiahmoo First Nation and three other First Nations (Tsartlip, Tsawout and Pauquachin) make up the Sencot'en Alliance, which says their traditional territory stretches south to the lower end of Puget Sound, including both the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands, across southern Vancouver Island to include sites north of the Canada/U.S. border, on the lower Fraser River and on all adjacent land.

Members of the Sencot'en Alliance also say they're signatories to the Douglas Treaties, taken with the British Crown from 1850 to 1854, and are not involved with the current B.C. Treaty Commission negotiations. [ [ Alliance maps out at-risk treaty lands] , By Kim Westad, "Victoria Times-Colonist", Published June 22, 2006. Retrieved June 14, 2007]

In 2007, the Semiahmoo publicly expressed strong opposition to the failed Tsawwassen First Nation treaty, stating the agreement with the Delta first nation could infringe on the its territory and rights. [ [ Semiahmoo band not in favour of TFN deal] , By Sandor Gyarmati, "Delta Optimist", January 13, 2007]

Relations with federal government

In 2003/04, the Semiahmoo received $243,500 in federal funding. [ [ First Nation Detail] , Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Retrieved on June 18, 2007]

In 2006, the Semihamoo reserve was listed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada as a high-priority community for drinking-water improvements. The Canadian government committed to assisting the Semiahmoo with its high-risk drinking water system. [ [ Backgrounder - Priority List of First Nation Communities With High Risk Water Systems and Drinking Water Advisories] , Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, March 21, 2006, Retrieved on June 19, 2007]

Relations with Surrey, White Rock

School District 36 Surrey acknowledges that it operates in the Semiahmoo traditional territory. [ [ Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement] , School District #36 Surrey, Retrieved on June 14, 2007]

The First Nation sponsors a powwow organized by students at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey. [ [ Powwow about sharing culture] , By Marisa Babic, "Surrey Now", Published March 11, 2004, Retrieved June 14, 2007]

Aboriginal policing

The Surrey detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police provides policing service through the Surrey First Nation Policing Service to both the Semiahmoo First Nation and Tsawwassen First Nation under tripartite framework agreements.

The Provincial Auxiliary Constable Program has five Auxiliary Constables on the reserve.

The Semiahmoo First Nation uses an Apology Ceremony to deal with minor offences committed within the community. The offender must make an apology to the victim and those that have been affected. The offender provides a gift to the victims and prepares a meal. After the gift is presented a meal is provided that is prepared by the offender. The Chief and Council, Elders, and community members are involved in the ceremony. [ [ Community Profiles > Southwest District >Surrey (Semiahmoo)] , Aboriginal Policing Services 'E' Division, RCMP website, Retrieved on June 13, 2007]


16049 Beach Road, Surrey, British ColumbiaV3S 9R6

ee also

* Coast Salish
* Musqueam Indian Band
* Kwantlen First Nation
* Lummi
* Halkomelem (language)
* North Straits Salish (language)
* Tsawwassen First Nation

External links

* [] - Official site
* [ Semiahmoo Wiki] - a joint project of Surrey School District, White Rock Museum and Archives and the Semiahmoo First Nation
* [ First Nation Detail] , Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
* [ The Semiahmoo People] - a website based on the unpublished Sociology Anthropology Master's thesis by Surrey resident and teacher Jack Brown


* [ A Profile of Aboriginal People, First Nations and Indian Reserves in Greater Vancouver] , Policy and Planning Department, Greater Vancouver Regional District, June 2003

Geographic Location (8-way)
Centre = Semiahmoo
North = Surrey, British Columbia
Northeast =
East =
Southeast =
South = US Border
Southwest =
West =
Northwest =

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