Today’s blog is about a fascinating area. In Secwepemc, it’s called Sqlewulucw or “Beaver Country”. Nearby it’s also known as Ncencéceńctem or “Stony Hollow”. Both of these are part of the territory of what was once a Secwepemc band known as Pelltsqwmus which is a place that has Sucker fish.
Now days, people know Sqlewulucw and Ncencéceńctem as the “Painted Chasm”. Painted Chasm is located just north of Clinton, BC. Secwepemc people have told stories about this area since the beginning of time. This particular story is estimated to be about 5,000 years old. For most Canadians, that’s before the Ancient Egyptians developed writing.
As told by Ignace, “At a time in the ancient past, according to the stories, Coyote was still doing his work, other “transformers” appeared in the country. Some of them were foreigners from the Coast, others were from the core of Secwepemc country and travelled outwards. If we understand them as not merely “mythical” but also historical accounts, they give us further clues about events and processes from a time around 5,000 years ago.”
The story of Tlli7sa and his Brothers is an epic story of four brothers who transformed this part of the world and made it habitable for Secwepemc people. There were four brothers: Tlli7sa, Tqemnelst, Kwelalst, and Qwele7ilt.
The four boys initially lived with their mother at the mouth of Scotch Creek near the outlet of Shuswap Lake. They travelled north from there up towards Kamloops, and eventually to Bonaparte. During their travels they encountered a woman who kills men with rattle snakes defeated a powerful rabbit who has razor sharp hind legs which it uses to kill intruders.
As summarized by Ignace, the brothers eventually “carry on up the Bonaparte River Valley, reaching a place near the 59 Mile post on the Cariboo wagon road, now Highway 97, called Sqlewulucw, a deep hollow surrounded by cliffs. Here, Tlli7sa makes the hollows and shapes in the cliffs during his search for a powerful beaver, whom he then kills and turns into slew7uwi, the ordinary beaver, that is, the animal that gives itself to people with its skin and its meat. At a place by a creek not far from there called Ncencéceńctem, they defeat a powerful marmot who has a house in the rock, transforming it into the common marmot, valued for is flesh and skin.”
Eventually the brothers end up at a place called “Qwiqwiyqwiyt” or Blue All Over which is known now days as High Bar Canyon. Before they get there though, they came to Pavilion Lake where a powerful skunk lived and killed people. When the brothers killed the skunk by emptying its scent bag into the lake, they caused the deep blue colour of Pavilion Lake, thus named it Npetkwe7ten or “farting lake”.
Tlli7sa and his brothers are most closely associated with the boundaries and places of the Secwepemc. However, this story does not fully encompass the entirety of Secwepemc territory.
As mentioned, this story touches the boundary of a community which was known as Pelltsqwmus or a place that has sucker fish. The community would have been centred around a lake called Young Lake just east of the Painted Chasm and was the headwaters of the Bonaparte River.
Unfortunately, the community was decimated during the small pox epidemic of 1862. The remaining survivors joined with the villages of Canim Lake Band.
It is said that as much as 60% of the First Nation population in British Columbia was killed in the epidemic of 1862. This was one of the unlucky ones. Irvine Johnson, from Esket, recounted in 2012 that he was helping fix their road and accidentally dug up a small pox grave. He said “those pit houses were just demolished, crumbled in on themselves, and that became their burial site.”
He said at first they buried their loved ones in a traditional way but as the epidemic grew, they were thrown into mass graves and their pit houses burned. At the end, there was no one left to bury the dead.
Countless more were lost on the trails to their salvation as they made their way to join with other communities.
As Secwepemc people alive today, we are the survivors of this trauma. Our ancestors also survived flu, measles, scarlet fever, and eventually the residential schools. We are stronger than we acknowledge.
It’s important to acknowledge this incredible loss to our nation. To acknowledge the existence of this community and that their strength and resilience still resides within our community.
The other week I spent some time picking some wild onions at Sqlewulucw which I dehydrated. A small act of remembrance, and defiance.
Le Q7es te Stseptekwle - The Time of the Ancient Transformers
Ron and Marianne Ignace
BC First Nations Mourn Smallpox Epidemic (2012)
Carl has been actively involved in re-imagining nation building. He has travelled extensively throughout Secwepemc territory and is fluent in Secwepemctsin.