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Hunting-Recognized Traditional Hunting Areas of the Sinixt People
A considerable number of traditional Sinixt village sites and hunting locations have been identified by Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy in their publication 'First Nations' Ethnography and Ethnohistory in British Columbia's Lower Kootenay/Columbia Hydropower Region', which was commissioned by the Columbia Power Corporation in 1999. Information and maps used below were taken from this resource, which can be found at public libraries and on-line.
Traditional Sinixt hunting grounds were spread out across the territory in order to follow the vast natural resources across the land. In the northern portion of their territory, for example, Sinixt hunting grounds were established from the general vicinity of Revelstoke to as far west as Three Valley Lake. The mountains surrounding the Lower and Upper Arrow lakes were used for hunting mountain goat and big horn sheep.
Sinixt Traditional Territory: Map 1
In the map below (taken from Bouchard & Kennedy 2005), 6 culturally significant sites of the Sinixt People have been identified, with original location names (printed in red font) being transcribed. Notice the site identified in the top left corner of this map. The word 'sngaytskstx' appears in a more traditional form, which has now been adapted in contemporary times to 'Sinixt'.
The Christian family, whose main homestead was at Brilliant, was a well-known group of Sinixt people and they held many camps throughout their traditional territory. New settlers in the area did not stop the Christian family from doing their seasonal rounds or them exercising their inherent rights to the land. The following is a reported incident from the area, which not only depicts the game resources found here, but also shows the Christian family asserting their claim to the territory.
The following statement was reported by Evan Johnson to the Kootenay Mail on April 13, 1895: A family of Indians named Christien claimed the right of the river for trapping and hunting, and the land I had taken up [in 1891]. I shot a caribou that swam across the Arm and four Indians came and carried it off. I let them go without objection, but one came back with a piece and was mad because I would not give him a dollar for it. Several other tricks they did on the land but nothing very serious.
Traditionally this area was used by Sinixt peoples during the month of August, where they camped, fished, and hunted at the mouth of Hill Creek. It is here that a well-known incident took place in May 1894. "Cultis Jim", a Sinixt man, was shot by a whiteman after asserting Sinixt seasonal use of the area.
Kate Johnson, a local historian, tells the following account of this incident:
….they [the Indians] came as usual, but a settler named Sam Hill had built a shack on their camping ground…The Chief, “Cultis Jim”, claimed that he had a prior right to ownership…[Hill’s] riffle was up in a flash and he shot the Chief through the heart. The rest of the Indians ran for their canoes and sailed south, never to return (Johnson 1964).
Another version of this story was told by “Cultis Jim’s” wife. From what was recorded, her husband was upset to find yet another settler taking over his People’s land (as Evan Johnson had done at the head of the [Northeast] Arm) and wanted to use the area for a couple of weeks to do some trapping. In her testimony, “Cultis Jim’s” wife stated that her husband told Sam Hill that, “I guess you better get away for two weeks until I quit setting steel traps” (Kootenay Mail 1894). As Bouchard and Kennedy have noted, it is well-known and documented that the Lakes [Sinixt] kept coming to this area after the shooting occurred.
Sinixt Traditional Territory: Map 2
Shown in the map below (taken from Bouchard & Kennedy 2005), are 8 significant Sinixt cultural sites that have been identified, with original location names (printed in red font) being transcribed.. The word Swah-netk-qha refers to the areas now known as the Upper Arrow Lake, Lower Arrow Lake, and Columbia River exclusively. The map below focuses on the upper portions of the Swah-netk-qha.
Arrow Park (Mosquito) Creek
Arrow Park Creek was documented as having a wealth of wildlife for hunting and trapping. As defined by the Department of Indian Affairs, Arrow Park Creek had the “best Indian line in this Agency.” The last recorded Sinixt trapper at this location was Frank Joseph. Mr. Joseph would have endured the restrictions of ‘Game Act’ regulations (created in the 1920s) but maintained his prior rights to the land until 1931, as his inherent rights superseded government regulations. The Department of Indian Affairs however, a year before Frank Joseph died, suggested that Mr. Joseph required assistance with his trapline and wanted “Indian Capilo” to move from the Kootenays to assist with the trapline’s operation.
“Indian Capilo” arrived for a short time but according to Clark Marshall (1982), he returned to the East Kootenays in the mid to late 1930s. Although no copy of a land transfer (from Sinixt to another person/authority) has been seen, rumor has it that in 1948 Frank Joseph’s trapline was transferred from Annie (Klome) Joseph to Lazarus Louis of Lower Kootenay. Annie Joseph was the last remaining Sinixt person enrolled in the ‘Lakes Indian Band’ at Oatscott Indian Reserve before she died. She was also the widow of Louie Joseph, who was Frank Joseph’s brother.
Traditionally “Nakusp”, an anglicization of the Sinixt term nkwusp, is a significant cultural use site of the Sinixt People. Numerous meanings of this word have been documented but possibly the most intriguing documentation comes from an article published in the Arrow Lakes News (January 31, 1930). In defining the meaning of nkwusp, an elderly Native man took his tobacco bag, opened its mouth and then closed it by drawing the strings tight (showing how the lake ‘came together’, as defined by Sinixt consultant Mary Marchand). The permanent village site at nkwusp was important caribou hunting grounds for the Sinixt People, as was the area west of the narrows between the Arrow Lakes (Caribou Lake).
Sinixt Traditional Territory: Map 3 In the map below (taken from Bouchard & Kennedy 2005), culturally significant sites of the Sinixt People have been identified in the Lardeau/Duncan region, with original location names (printed in red font) being transcribed.
Sinixt people traditionally used the Trout Lake area for both hunting and fishing during spring and fall. When Sinixt man “Cultis Jim” was shot at Galena Bay (April 1895), the Kootenay Mail reported that Sam Hill, who admittedly shot “Cultis Jim”, left the area immediately after the shooting in fear of his life.
Sam Hill stated the following:
Indian runners were sent to Trout Lake, where several of the same tribe were, to let them know what had happened and they were heard to say that if I was not hung they would shoot me on sight (Kootenay Mail 1895) .
At the south end of Trout Lake (known locally as ‘Gerrard’) there was a significant cultural use area for the Sinixt Peoples, especially for fishing and hunting caribou. It was Sinixt guides that first brought Hudson’s Bay Company Traders through this area and recorded information from such traders shows how familiar Sinixt guides were with the area and also facilitated an easy journey from Arrow Lake to Trout Lake. In more recent times, Sinixt headman, Bob Campbell, and other Sinixt members have camped here during spring to honor the spawning Gerrard rainbow trout, which is exceptional to this location.
The Duncan River once flowed freely into the northeastern end of Kootenay Lake and the surrounding area holds many Sinixt cultural use sites. Verne Ray (1936) recorded numerous Sinixt place names, and specific data relating to the use of these locations, at both ends of Trout Lake. He also recorded that to the west side of what is now Duncan Lake, and to the west side of Duncan River south of Duncan Lake, was Sinixt territory.
J.W.E. Alexander (a local pioneer resident) documented Frank Joseph as having a cabin on “Frank’s Island” in the Duncan River, which is located between Meadow Creek and Copper Creek. Mr. Alexander (1998) further reported that Frank Joseph trapped and fished near his cabin until he died.
Sinixt Traditional Territory: Map 4 The map below of traditional Sinixt territory (taken from Bouchard & Kennedy 2005) likely represents the most concentrated area of identified culturally significant sites. Within this portion of Sinixt territory, having 18 identified sites, contemporary Sinixt history in British Columbia has been heavily documented.
Also known today as Caribou Lake, Whatshan Lake, is the location of a recorded traditional Sinixt camp site. As documented by James Teit (1930) “the country around here was famous as a caribou-hunting ground”. From the terms transcribed by both Teit and Verne Ray, the traditional place name of this site/area is nmimeltm, which means ‘having whitefish’. Archaeological evidence shows that the area was used for a long period of time and has been recorded by others as a meeting place for Sinixt and Shuswap People while hunting during the fall. Additionally, a significant grease trail (indigenous travel route) has been identified through the Inonoaklin Creek Valley.
The area now known today as Deer Park has been recorded as a traditional winter village and hunting/fishing camp for Sinixt peoples. As the name implies, there was an abundance of deer in the general area. Historical documents reveal that Deer Park was used most heavily by Sinixt during the winter and spring months for hunting when the deer were low in the valleys. In a specific reference to Deer Park, F.G. Hamblim (visited the area in 1986) stated that Sinixt hunters would take their dogs high into the hills and then free them in order to push the deer down to the water’s edge. It was here that Sinixt women in canoes awaited the deer and killed them with knives attached to poles. Presently, Deer Park continues to provide habitat for one of the last remaining big horn sheep populations in the area.
Sinixt people interviewed during the 1970s and 1980s identified this location (what is now the town of Trail) as tsagwlxilhts, which means ‘wash body’. Several documents from the early 20th century clearly state continued use of this area by the Sinixt People, noting a campsite on the eastern side of the Columbia. This site served as, among other things, a deer-hunting base and was reportedly used for a few days at a time.
Alex Christian, whose family was pivotal in the assertion and fight for Sinixt people’s prior rights and ownership of Sinixt territory during the 1800s and 1900s, maintained cabins in the area for both fishing and hunting/trapping. Harold Webber, a local historian, documented information about these cabins, saying that Christian had a hunting cabin “across the river from Birchbank” that he used, particularly when trapping around Champion Lakes.
The use of the Beaver Valley area by Sinixt peoples has been well documented. Beaver Creek, located downstream from Trail, enters the east side of the Columbia and was used traditionally for hunting. A Sinixt encampment was documented in the early 1900s as being located along the Columbia, just upstream of Beaver Creek.
Clara Graham, who lived along upper Beaver Creek during the early 1900s, wrote about a Native legend of the Sinixt People. According to Mrs. Graham (1963), a Sinixt Indian chief was killed by a bear or a caribou while hunting in the Beaver Creek Valley. Afterward, the chief’s people “set fire to the country and for many years they stayed away.” Mrs. Graham also recalled that a few Sinixt families returned around 1900 to hunt during the fall.