Líl̓wat Traditional Territory

Photo Credit: Lil’wat Nation


“We are the Líl̓wat Nation, an Interior Salish people. We live in a stunning and dramatic landscape with a rich biodiversity — a mysterious place of towering mountains, ice fields, alpine meadows, white-water rivers, and braided river valleys that run to a milky colour due to the silt and clay deposited by glacial melt. Líl̓wat is a separate and distinct nation with cultural and kinship ties to the St̓át̓y̓emc.


Our geography — between two formidable mountain ranges — ensured our important role in the early regional economy. We were traders. For centuries, we bartered and exchanged all manner of goods with many other First Nations, and later with non-aboriginal fur traders, miners and settlers. Skilled fishers and hunters, we are closely tied to our land.


The plant and animal resources of the high mountain slopes and river valleys remain critically important to us. Like our ancestors, we have a profound and harmonious relationship with this land. First European contact came in 1793, when Alexander Mackenzie made his overland journey to the Pacific. Over the next two centuries traders, miners and settlers arrived in our territory, without an invitation. Over the years, as the colony of British Columbia grew and prospered, the Líl̓wat people, like other First Nations, were systematically stripped of land, rights and resources. Starting in the late 1800s, our ancestors were increasingly disenfranchised and confined to 10 tiny reserves, totalling 2,930 ha or .004 per cent of our traditional territory.” — From the Líl̓wat Fact Book published in 2007 by the Líl̓wat Nation.


The entire Pemberton backcountry — from the Duffey to the Hurley to the Rutherford and beyond — exist on the traditional land of the Líl̓wat Nation. Everyone who recreates on this land is a guest of the of the Líl̓wat and should do so with appreciation and consideration.


Winter backcountry sports don’t leave nearly as much impact on land as summer sports, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be mindful of where and how we tread, whether on snowmobile, snow bike, skis or snowshoes. As recreationists, we might hold ourselves morally above the interests of logging, mining and hydro projects, but in the eyes of many of Canada’s indigenous people, we’re still colonizers. It’s up to all of us if we want to improve those relations and have sanctioned access to the land for generations to come.


If you’re interested in how you can be a better backcountry citizen while recreating on traditional First Nations land, check out the article “The Myth of the Great Bike Savior” by Patrick Lucas on the Patagonia blog. It’s written from the perspective of a white Canadian wanting to bring positive change to indigenous communities in BC with mountain biking. As Lucas discovered, it’s not about convincing First Nations, it’s about listening to them. Listen long enough and act in their interests and you’ll eventually make the transition from colonizer to ally.


If you’re interested in more about best practices for engaging and working with Indigenous Peoples on trails and outdoor recreation projects in British Columbia, read the document “Working in a Good Way,” also authored by Lucas.