Table of Contents
The Coast Salish Peoples
The Stick Indians
The Coast Salish Peoples
[General reference map of Coast Salish Territory.]
The Coast Salish Territory extends throughout large parts of both present-day British Columbia and Washington State, including parts of the Strait of Georgian, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Lower Fraser Valley, and Puget Sound.
The only exception are lands included in the Douglas Treaties, the only historic treaties in all of southern BC.
Descendants of these signatories (of the Douglas treaties) have argued that their ancestors were unaware of the true meaning and intent of the treaties - the surrender of their rights to the territory. Rather, they believed they were signing a treaty to share the land. Many contemporary Coast Salish peoples also contend that some of their ancestors signed blank sheets which were later filled by the colonial government with conditions that the Indigenous signatories had not seen.
Salish Language Family
In terms of Indigenous languages, BC is incredibly diverse. More than 50% of Indigenous languages spoken in Canada originated in so-called BC. Prior to the implementation of the residential school system and similar assimilation policies in the 1880s, all Indigenous people in Canada spoke at least one Indigenous language. In the past 120 years, linguistic fluency in BC has dropped by approximately 95%.
Coast Salish languages are part of the Salish (or Salishan) language family, which is the largest language family in the Pacific Northwest, and estimated to be 3,000-6,000 years old. Salish (or Salishan) languages are further categorized into five groups: Nuxalk, Central Salish, Tsamosan, Interior Salish, and Tillamook.
[Salish language diagram.]
Of the 23 languages in the Salish family, six are currently extinct, and most of the surviving languages are critically endangered.
Archaeological evidence of human occupation in this coastal marine area is extensive and ancient, dating back some 8000 years. Coast Salish peoples were nomadic. Though they lived in permanent villages during the winter, they would travel to gather food in the summer and set up temporary camps. Their coastal environment also made fishing a primary food source and a centrepiece of their spirituality, culture and economy, which it remains today.
When describing the coastal Legend of the Salmon People, Donna Joe of Salmon Bay is quoted as saying “Salmon are themselves a proud race. They are happy to come ashore each year and give their rich flesh to feed the people, but they must be treated with respect.” Traditional fishing methods such as dip-netting and spearing were passed down through oral history, along with teachings of ceremonies, including some that would be performed to honour the salmon’s gift.
Potlatches - large ceremonial feasts held by many Northwest Coast Nations to celebrate rites of passage and share in a family’s wealth - were also an important part of the culture.
Coast Salish people are especially renowned for their skills in weaving - they would hand-weave wool from mountain sheep and a domesticated species of dog, as well as fibres from cattails, cedar, and other natural materials to create textiles, mats, and baskets.
The BC smallpox epidemic originated in March of 1862 when ships carrying goods for trade and hundreds of gold miner hopefuls arrived at the southernmost tip of so-called Vancouver Island. Some of these passengers carried the smallpox virus with them.
Symptoms of smallpox include fever, headache, vomiting, as well as rashes and sores on the skin, which would blister and scab. The disease could also cause pneumonia, infection in the joints, and even blindness. It was highly contagious and the virus could be transmitted by touching contaminated objects as well as contact with infected persons.
There was no treatment that could cure the smallpox disease, but it was well-known that vaccination and the implementation of strict quarantine measures could prevent its spread. These measures were not taken to protect many of the Indigenous groups in the area.
In fact, rather than implement a general quarantine, police evicted some Indigenous groups from their local camps and forced them to return to their territories, spreading the disease further as they travelled up the coast.
Smallpox ravaged the coast, killing some 14,000 Indigenous people and destroying half the population.
[Kuper (Penelakut) Island residential school (1917).]
Residential schools in Canada operated from about 1880 to 1996 as part of a policy known as “aggressive assimilation”. During this time, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were stolen from their homes and placed into schools designed to assimilate them to the colonial culture, stripping them of their culture, language, and traditional practices. These schools were operated in partnership by the Federal government and Christian churches, the hope being that if they could convert the Indigenous peoples to the white way of life, they would be more willing to accept the authority of the European settlers as they attempted to take over the lands and resources.
Residential schools were marked by high volumes of sexual, psychological, and physical abuse, and in many cases the children were only schooled part-time and performed unpaid manual labour for the schools the remainder of the time. Sanitation was poor at these institutions and conditions were overcrowded, and many children died of disease.
British Columbia contained 18 of the 139 federally-funded Residential schools in Canada, and the very last school to close was the Christie (Kakawis) Indian residential school on Meares Island.
[Photograph of the Christie Roman Catholic school on Meares Island, BC.]
In an Article for Vancouver is Awesome in 2018, a Coast Salish elder by the name of Lambert described the stories his siblings would tell him about the boarding schools. He describes students being forced to run 200 laps of the school field as punishment for trying to escape, and one particularly gruesome punishment wherein staff made the children lie down in a row and walked on their stomachs.
Even though Indigenous peoples now comprise about 5% of the global population, National Geographic estimates that they protect up to 80% of earth’s biodiversity.
According to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), all Indigenous Nations have the right to free, prior, and informed consent when it comes to actions taken by colonial governments that may affect them.
Even though Canada has sworn to uphold the declaration, and British Columbia’s Premier John Horgan actually signed UNDRIP into provincial law in November of 2019, these commitments tend to fall through when money from resource extraction projects is at stake. The TMX pipeline was approved by the Canadian federal government in 2019 despite the fact that Indigenous leaders across BC have not given their consent.
[General reference map of Proposed TransMountain Pipeline Expansion Project.]
The TransMountain Pipeline has already come under fire for destroying salmon habitat even though the project has not even reached completion. When built, the pipeline will be used to increase transportation diluted bitumen (a form of crude oil) by approximately 590,000 barrels, crossing the Fraser River headwaters, to be transported across the Salish sea in oil tankers that would increase tanker traffic by sevenfold. An oil spill would have devastating environmental impacts, including the potential to decimate the salmon populations in these areas whose delicate underwater ecosystems are home to salmon at all stages of their life cycle. As of 2018, nearly ⅓ of salmon and steelhead populations are at risk of extinction, and some researchers estimate up to a 90% possibility of oil stranding (becoming unable to be cleaned up) in event of a spill.
Canada has resorted to criminalizing Indigenous activists in order to stifle dissent to the risky project, and have laid charges of criminal contempt against violators of the TMX injunction. Just two weeks ago 4 protestors were arrested for mischief after failing to clear an intersection at a protest blockade in Vancouver.
Calls to Action
Visit https://www.coastprotectors.ca/ to sign up for news and alerts concerning the development of the TMX pipeline.
Call on government officials to withdraw their support for the TMX pipeline by writing and calling the following people:
- Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations Alberta
- Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations BC
- Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
- Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks Alberta
- George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy BC
- Jonathan Wilkinson, Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change
- Sonya Savage, Minister of Energy Alberta
- Bruce Ralston, Minister of Energy, Mines, and Low-Carbon Innovation BC
- Seamus O’Reagan, Federal Minister of Natural Resources
According to many Salish and Northwest Indian tribes, Stick Indians are malevolent and dangerous forest spirits, however others say they are an evil race of shapeshifting monsters. They have various names such as: Stick People, Stick Figures, and Stick Men. These are their English names, but according to some sources their true name is Ste-ye-hah' ma. That name roughly translates to "spirit hiding under the cover of wood," but some believe that to call them by their true name is enough to warrant an attack from them.
There are several stories surrounding Stick Indians from the past to modern day. Most of the time they are seen by hunters or lone travelers who have wandered away from the trails. Usually the sightings are at night, because Stick Indians are widely believed to be nocturnal, but there have been a few sightings during the day as well.
[Original artwork of a Stick Indian by Mackenzie Taylor.]
Details about Stick Indians vary from tribe to tribe. According to the Salish Tribe, Stick Indians are large, hairy, bigfoot like creatures. But to the Cayuse and Yakama tribes, Stick Indians are smaller and more dwarf-like.
When the forest suddenly becomes quiet, you may notice an animal that may be a bit too large or simply acting a bit strange, you may be in the presence of a Stick Indian.
Stick Indians are believed to have supernatural abilities which include hypnotizing and/or paralyzing their victims. They're also known to cause episodes of insanity. Sometimes all they need to lure people astray into their trap is to eerily whistle or laugh during the night.
They typically eat people, kidnap children, and molest women. They also take aggressive revenge against people who injure or disrespect them, regardless on intention or lack thereof. They enjoy striking fear into people and killing them in brutal, and savage ways.
Unfortunately, not too many traditional legends regarding the Stick Indians have been recorded, this may be in part due to taboos related to these deadly creatures. "Stick Indians" is an English euphemism; saying the actual Salish names of these beings in public is considered to be provoking their attacks in some tribes, a belief many Native people still adhere to today, choosing to refer to them only in English.
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