The SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout) and W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip) First Nations are located next to the District of Central Saanich. Here, the W̱SÁNEĆ proudly speak SENĆOŦEN, a dialect of Coast Salish languages. It is a language that has recently been revived due to efforts by the late Dave Elliott of the W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip) First Nation who devised an alphabet which was later adopted by the Saanich Indian School Board in 1984. In the SENĆOŦEN language W̱JOȽEȽP (Tsartlip) means 'Land of Maples' and SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout) means 'Houses on the Hill'.
ȽÁUWELṈEW̱ Tribal School is located on the Tsartlip Reserve, near Brentwood Bay. The school is a haven where children know their history and find a clear vision of their future. It serves the W̱SÁNEĆ People and offers education from early years to adult education.
Residents of the two First Nations are also residents of Central Saanich and are welcome to vote, run for office, and otherwise participate in municipal functions. and Tsawout are part of the Corporation of the District of Central Saanich Letters Patent, the document giving legal status to the municipality, a unique inclusion within British Columbia and in Canada; the District does not have jurisdiction over the First Nation lands.
The Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations have a strong sense of community and rich history in the region. It dates to approximately 14,000 years ago, when at the end of the last ice age the glaciers covering south Vancouver Island retreated; archaeological records show Indigenous peoples’ inhabiting the south coast from these times forward.
The W̱SÁNEĆ people
Saanich elders have passed down the story of a great flood, believed to have taken place about 10,000 years ago. In W̱SÁNEĆ oral history, XÁLS (the Creator) signals a great flood which correlates with a flood event known to Western geological history. The people heeded XÁLS’ warnings and got in their boats with food and supplies. As the water levels rose, they anchored their canoes to arbutus trees located atop a mountain that was eventually submerged. As the water levels dropped, the top of Mount Newton emerged, and there they found refuge. Many survived the great flood due to this LÁU,WELNEW (place of refuge) and from then on they called themselves the W̱SÁNEĆ (the emerging people).
Very few archaeological sites on the Saanich Peninsula have been documented or dated, and many sites have been obscured by changing sea levels or destroyed by urban development. Much of the fragile record of this history has yet to be fully appreciated. However, the archaeological work completed to date, combined with a rich oral history, provides a glimpse into the life of Indigenous peoples using and occupying the Saanich Peninsula intensively over at least the past 1,000 years.
The W̱SÁNEĆ are saltwater people. Their homes once existed all along the coast of the Saanich Peninsula, throughout the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and as far as Point Roberts. The W̱ people’s longstanding relationship to the sea is made evident by the reef-netting technology they invented to catch salmon in open waters and the clam gardens they conceived along the coast to increase shellfish productivity. The Saanich Peninsula is where permanent winter homes were built, in the shape of cedar longhouses.
One of the most sacred pieces of land on the Saanich Peninsula is T̸IX̱EṈ (pronounced tee-quan) also known as the Cordova Spit. It has been used by the W̱SÁNEĆ for as long as 10,000 years for gathering seafood, collecting medicinal plants, spiritual reflection, and even as a burial site. Elders used to say, "when the tide is out, the table is set.” T̸IX̱EṈ is a place where generation after generation come to honour ancestors, gather with family, and celebrate. Central Saanich is currently in the process of divesting this sacred site back to the Tsawout First Nations.
Truth and Reconciliation
The Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations and the District of Central Saanich are committed to trusting, celebrating, and respecting one another, our ancestors, and our environment. We are working together to establish stable and effective relations and a framework that will strengthen, enhance, and honour our historical, political, social, and cultural relationship.
We commit to build and maintain strong mutual trust and respect; we acknowledge the history, past experiences and differences impacting current perceptions and opinions; we respect each other’s customs and beliefs, values, and culture in spirit and practice; and we are working to strengthen the cooperative and supportive bond between governing bodies to promote the wellbeing of all future generations.