Cowichan is derived from the Coast Salish Hul'qumi'num' word ‘Khowutzun’ which means “land warmed by the sun”.
Cowichan Tribes: The name Cowichan Tribes is used as a collective name that combines seven different traditional villages in the Cowichan territories. Those traditional villages consist of the Koksilah Indian Reserve, Somena Indian Reserve, Quamichan Indian Reserve, Khenipsen Indian Reserve, Comiaken Indian Reserve, Clemclemaluts Indian Reserve, and the Kilpahlas Indian Reserve.
Traditional Cowichan Territory: The traditional territory of the Cowichan people covered the entire Cowichan valley, the surrounding region around Cowichan Lake, Shawnigan Lake, and extended into the Gulf Islands, and the Fraser River. Lulu Island, which is now the site of the Vancouver International Airport, and Steveston in Richmond, was once a very important traditional Cowichan Tribes fishing village. The lower reaches of the Cowichan Valley, particularly the area stretching from the present location of Duncan down to Cowichan Bay (and including the lower Koksilah River), was heavily settled by the verious Cowichan tribes.
Present Cowichan Territory: After colonization by European people the landmass total for the Cowichan Indian Reserve was severely reduced to an area of 2,389 hectares (5,903 acres). European Colonization: The first European Colonist to Cowichan territory arrived in 1859, and around that time period the combined Cowichan tribe’s people were estimated at approximately 15,000. With the European settlers came new diseases such as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and venereal diseases. All of these diseases, including flu viruses, and the common cold were previously unknown to all the North American Indian Tribes in general; and some of these diseases had very devastating results for the North American Indian people.
At one point in Coast Salish history there were estimated to be only about 1000 Cowichan Tribes members that had survived the onslaught of these deadly diseases. The deadly diseases, smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, had slaughtered whole villages, very indiscriminately, men, woman, and children. Present: Today, the Cowichan tribes membership consists of 4,120 tribal band members (Source: Registered Indian Population by Sex and Residence April 2007, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada).
Traditional Leadership: With the Coast Salish, the highest unit of common allegiance was the extended family. There was no single tribal Chief, council, or tribal officers.
The extended family normally lived in one large house, and the strength of a family lay in the numbers. The headmen (regarded as the Chief) of each of the families houses that comprised the village, often conferred together conversationally over any tribal concerns.
A Chief was not the representative of a heterogeneous group of constituents; they were his relatives, and although the family headman’s advice was frequently sought, he had no power whatsoever to enforce his own judgements or even the majority opinions of his house associates.
Cowichan Traditional Village Headman
Change in Leadership Roles:In the 1940's the hereditary leaders of each of the villages; approximately 60 traditional village headmen were removed by the Indian agent from their traditional community leadership roles, and the Cowichan Tribes were amalgamated into one and run by the Indian agent. Present Leadership:The present leadership is through a non-traditional form of heterogeneous governance. A single elected Chief and 12 Councillors presently govern the Cowichan Tribes. The Chief and Council election process began in 1972. The election of Chief and Council is held every two years falling on odd years, with 2007 being an election year.
Approximately fifty percent of the Cowichan Tribes people do not participate in the electoral process, which in turn has created dissension amongst various families of the Cowichan Tribes people. Although there are 4,120 Cowichan Tribes members, approximately 2,500 are old enough to vote. Out of approximately 2,500 eligible voters, only fifty percent will cast a vote in the Chief and Council elections.
The position of the Chief is generally secured with, on average approximately 300-400 votes, and the council positions are generally secured with an average of 350 votes. Each person voting is allowed 12 single votes for council candidates, and 1 vote towards the Chief candidates. Click here to view the results of the Cowichan Tribes December 03, 2007 Election. With the amalgamation of the tribes, and the removal of the roles and leadership of the traditional village headmen came a loss of true equal single-family unit representation, and an uneven playing field was created for several of the smaller families.
This form of heterogeneous governance has created several community issues regarding: Conflicts of interests (generally in regards to nepotism and favouritism issues surrounding equal housing and employment opportunities), loss of traditional community leadership roles, and the loss of some of the Traditional villages.
Cowichan Tribes Band Office: Cowichan Tribes receives its funding from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and administers programs in Children and Families, Education, Health, Housing and Social Development. Cowichan Tribes has annual revenues of over $35 million, and employs approximately 300 Native and Non-native people in its Tribal Band Office.
Employment: With a 70% Cowichan Tribes unemployment rate, the Cowichan Tribes communities are faced with numerous social and economic disadvantages such as poverty and the reliance on social assistance. Approximately half of all the Cowichan Tribes children live in poverty. Traditional Language: The Cowichan language is categorised as being from the Central Salish (Squamish, Halkomelem, Nooksack) group. Historically, there were many Salish people that could speak several of the Salish languages, and they would serve as the diplomats, traders, and interpreters when encountering members from other Salish tribes. In 1930 100% of Cowichan people spoke Hul'qumi'num'. Presently, of 4,120 band members there are less than 200 Cowichan people who are fluent speakers of the traditional Hul'qumi'num' language, with an additional 60 people (approximately) that are "understanders” of the language, that is they can understand but not speak the language.
Cowichan Valley: The Cowichan Valley has been home to the Cowichan Tribes for approximately 12,000 years.