The Neskonlith Secwepemc community is one of five Lakes Division Communities of the Secwepemc Nation. The Lakes Secwepemc inhabits the eastern most part the Secwepemc Territory in and around the South Thompson River and the large Shuswap, Adams and Mara Lakes. Traditionally this complex of waterways played a large role in the Lakes Secwepemc travel patterns.
Lake Division Secwepemc Winter villages were almost exclusively on the River Terraces on dry, well-drained sites near major streams and along lakes within the Lakes Division territories with good south exposure and shelter from the valley winds. Villages were often near an important fishery, so there were many small villages of a few families scattered up and down the main rivers and along major lakes. Pit houses were the preferred c7’Istkten (winter homes), but there were other styles of insulated houses as well.
The Lakes Secwepemc delayed their move into the village as long as good weather held, but usually they were settled in by November. Early in winter, the villages were used as a basecamp for hunting and fishing expeditions while the houses were readied for the swucwt (snow) season. Ts’i7 (deer), Ten’Iye (moose) and SweIaps (sheep) moved down from the mountains in their autumn prime and closer to the villages. These important food animals were in their rut in November, and easy to bait and call.
The rivers were the source of sqlelten (salmon), a staple in Secwepemc diet, economy and culture. Whenever salmon were in our rivers, our people harvested sqlelten using various methods. Even in early spring and early winter a few people would be camped near the salmon rivers, eating fresh sqlelten. By mid-summer, the main sqlelten runs were underway and most people were camped at the riverside fishing stations. A frenzied month of fishing, processing, camp maintenance, and transportation to the winter village gradually ended as the fishery tapered off. The fishing basecamps were the centre of feasting, marriage, ceremony, and dancing. Important fishing camps were also the point of trade between neighboring villages and nations. Major bartering ceremonies in the region attracted over 1,000 participants.
Late in the sqlelten season, men made snowshoes, nets, rope and other winter gear or searched for the fine-grained rock, especially black basalt to make adzes and other tools. Women completed processing and storing the catch. The River Valley was hunted for Ts’i7 and other ungulates seeking winter protection in the riverside forests, but only on mild days because the animals were lean. In deep S7istk (winter) our people stayed in the village and lived on food stored during spring, summer and fall foraging trips. On warmer days, a few individuals and small parties might try pixem (hunting) for Ts’i7 in nearby grasslands or ice fishing or hare and grouse snaring near a forest margin.
The Lakes Secwepemc left their c7’Istkten’s as soon as weather allowed, usually in February when melting snows and longer days made hunting easier, and even a few early plants were sprouting. The River Terraces near the villages were also habitat for many plants the Secwepemc used for food. Spring was also the time to collect materials for making the basic tools of Secwepemc technology -bows, arrows, containers, tool handles, rope, and cordage, made from sap-filled willow, mock orange, juniper birch, maple, cottonwood, Saskatoon, and bitter cherry.