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Pre-colonial Sto:lo-Coast Salish community organization : an archaeological study Schaepe, David M.

Abstract

This study integrates settlement and community archaeology in investigating pre-colonial Stó:lō-Coast Salish community organization between 2,550-100 years before present (cal B.P.). Archaeological housepits provide a basic unit of analysis and proxy for households through which community organization manifests in relationships of form and arrangement among housepit settlements in the lower Fraser River Watershed of southwestern British Columbia. This study focuses on spatial and temporal data from 11 housepit settlements (114 housepits) in the upriver portion of the broader study area (mainland Gulf of Georgia Region). These settlements were mapped and tested as part of the Fraser Valley Archaeology Project (2003-2006). The findings of this study suggest a trajectory of continuity and change in community organization among the Stó:lō-Coast Salish over the 2,500 years preceding European colonization. Shifts between heterarchical and hierarchical forms of social organization, and corporate to network modes of relations represent societal transformations that become expressed by about 550 cal B.P. Transformations of social structure and community organization are manifest as increasing variation in housepit sizes and settlement patterns, and the development of central arrangements in both intra- and inter-settlement patterns. In the Late Period (ca. 550-100 cal. B.P.), the largest and most complex settlements in the region, including the largest housepits, develop on islands and at central places or hubs in the region’s communication system along the Fraser River. These complex sets of household relations within and between settlements represent an expansive form of community organization. Tracing this progression provides insight into the process of change among Stó:lō pithouse communities. Societal change develops as a shift expressed first at a broad-based collective level between settlements, and then at a more discreet individual level between households. This process speaks to the development of communities formed within a complex political-economic system widely practiced throughout the region. This pattern survived the smallpox epidemic of the late 18th century and was maintained by the Stó:lō up to the Colonial Era. Administration of British assimilation policies (e.g., Indian Legislation) instituted after 1858 effectively disrupted but failed to completely replace deeply rooted expressions of Stó:lō community that developed during preceding millennia.

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