The Musqueam people have been present in what is now Greater Vancouver for several thousands of years. Archaeological journals have recorded evidence of Musqueam’s existence in this area, particularly the Marpole midden - located at the mouth of the North Arm of the Fraser River, in excess of 4,000 years and at the Musqueam reserve in excess of 3,500 years. Over 143 heritage sites were recorded in Musqueam Traditional Territory in Musqueam’s 1984 Comprehensive Land Claims submission to Canada. In the interim eighteen sites have been documented for a total of 161.
Current Musqueam values and teachings are based on our traditional culture. A major part of these teachings and values is the kinship system. Family and relations are more closely defined in Musqueam’s teachings than in Euro-Canadian ways. Traditionally, large extended families lived close together and the children were taught the importance of family and family history. Our people lived in multi-family homes that have been called bighouses. Large extended families lived in one house (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, etc.) These families shared in all the tasks and chores of a household. Yet, each nuclear family was kept separate by partitions often made of bulrush mats. When it came to the teachings and the learning of the traditional ways everybody partook in this informal education process. It was very important that our customary system of authority be taught to the young people. Power was given and controlled within the families. When a problem arose in the community each house was represented by a person who was selected by the family to represent them – to be the head of the family on that particular issue. There was no formal structural level of government as there is today. There was no need to have the forms of government that came with the Indian Agent and the Indian Act. Our people did not always agree as one people, but the teachings were the same. No matter what the situation it could always be solved through our traditional and cultural form of government/authority.
Our people still practice our tradition and culture in our bighouse. The ceremonies, which happen in our big house, are very sacred and private to our people. We try and keep these ceremonies private because we feel it is one of the few things we have left that is our own and we would like to have this part of our culture and traditions kept strong in our community. Participating in bighouse gatherings can be very informal, without invitation as well as large formal gatherings; a specific ceremony or work is to be done. The small informal gatherings happen anytime and often for no reason other than to socialize with family and friends. Our people have always enjoyed spending evenings with our own community members as well as our extended families from neighbouring communities. This is a time to take advantage of telling old stories, passing on teachings, and sharing a meal with one another. Larger more formal gatherings are planned well in advance and formal invitation is given to our own community as well as numerous other native communities who practice our same culture and traditions. These gatherings are usually put on by families who wish to pass on a traditional name to a family member who has earned and has a right to that name by way of family lineage. The family may also want to have a memorial for a deceased family member. Another purpose for a large gathering would be to have a traditional marriage ceremony; this is very rarely practiced today since this form of marriage is not recognized to be legal.
Eventually, with colonization and the introduction and influence of the Indian Act, which was administered by the Indian Agent, our traditional and customary system of authority quickly became secondary without the awareness of native leadership. This imposed a different way of life upon the Musqueam people.