Modern Society

While we are now a modern society, our rich traditions and culture remain woven throughout our culture. Some of our traditional customs and practices have changed – historically imposed but now increasingly by choice.

We are adapting to new realities, and attitudes towards our traditions and teachings vary among our members. Some have maintained our customs throughout their lives, others are coming back to it, and still others say 'no thanks'. However, most of us do not want to stop being Cowichan.

We still engage in many of our traditional rites and ceremonies. We still have a strong tradition of community. We have many artists who have carried on the tradition of carving, canoe building, singing, and dancing. Other Cowichan artists capture our history and traditions in their artwork. Our Elders are actively involved in passing on the teachings of our ancestors through telling stories. We still fish by spear, although we also employ modern equipment as well. We still harvest traditional foods and plants for food and ceremonial purposes. We smoke or cure salmon and prepare other foods in the traditional way.

Language is the cornerstone of our culture. Hul’qumi’num, as with any language, embodies all our thoughts, beliefs, myths and institutions. Within it is reflected everything we have produced and contributed to the world. It is of paramount concern that we preserve our language.

Authentic Cowichan Sweater
Totem Pole Cowichan Bay

Overcoming the legacy of colonialism, residential schools, and other oppressive measures is a long and challenging process. There was a lot of damage done to our mental and emotional well-being, and that is the biggest challenge we have to overcome.

But in the 25 years or so that we have been allowed some degree of self-determination, we have come a long way. We now provide a myriad of member services, we have an economic development company that provides job and training opportunities and gradually adds to our own-source revenue. More of our young people are staying in school and getting jobs. Healthy lifestyles are gradually being adopted.

Nevertheless, huge challenges remain. Many of our members are still unemployed, there is inadequate housing for our members, funding is an eternal struggle, racism and discrimination still exists. Recognition, and more importantly, respect for our culture and sovereignty remains a significant barrier to being accepted by society at large. Self-government and the right to determine what is best for our members still elude us. However we will succeed.

Cowichan Sweaters

The Cowichans, already renowned for their weaving, quickly adapted to the art of knitting introduced by white settlers, and created what is now the world-famous Cowichan sweater, whose trademark is that it is knit all in one piece.