My thanks are extended to Sharon Montgomery of the Nakusp Museum for sharing the following local history information (part one) with readers of this column.
According to Sinixt Protocol, only Sinixt people are permitted to speak on their history. With that said, I (Sharon) speak to you as a Sinixt Nation Advocate and Associate Member.
People of the Bull Trout
“Arrow Lakes Indians” is the White Man’s name for the Sinixt Nation. The word “Sinixt” means “People of the Bull Trout” or Dolly Varden, as we know the fish.
The Sinixt traditional territory extends from Three Valley Gap in the north to Northern Washington, Idaho and Montana States…from the top of the Monashees in the west to the Rockies in the east. About 250 years ago, The Ktunaxa People from the Assiniboine were driven west from the plains, across the Rockies. The Sinixt People awarded them a small land base in the East Kootenays, the Nelson area being the new territorial border.
When the White Man came shortly afterward, they couldn’t tell the difference between the Ktunaxa Plains Indians and the Sinixt — hence the “Kootenay Indian” misnomer to all aboriginals in this area.
When the ice sheets receded, they melted westwards and the Columbian Basin along with the Slocan Valley were among the first valleys to be ice-free. Archaeologists confirm the Sinixt were here — that’s 10,000 years of occupation!
Mountain people have historically been the keepers of tradition and customs, and the Sinixt were no exception. The Sinixt Ancestors of this region were the court system. Tribes such as the Shuswap, Okanagans, Spokanes, Flatheads, Nez Perce and surrounding Salish Peoples came here to have disputes settled by Sinixt Elders. Their decisions were respected and carried out because they are the Mother Tribe and a Matriarchal Society.
The Sinixt controlled the fishing rights on the Columbia River and delegated to the various Salish Tribes where they could fish and what volume of bounty they could take. Those were the days before the Grand Coulee Dam when the Salmon or “En-tee-tee-veh” came up here in the millions.
The Sinixt wintered throughout their territory in subterranean pit-houses, close to their burial grounds. There is a myth that natives only hunted here — not so — burial grounds have been found as far north as Revelstoke and Arrowhead and the Sinixt made permanent winter villages close to their ancestral graves.
There were burial grounds here in Nakusp, just below the Leland Hotel to the right, where the stone piles mark the Sacred Spot. The Sinixt can map their territory by their unique burial customs of putting the corpse in a fetal position (sitting curled up), usually facing east covered in black or red ochre, then moss and finally encased in cedar bark and placed in a cedar root basket. This is their cultural law.
Part Two follows in next week’s column.