The Sinixt, or Arrow Lakes Tribe, have been in the news lately. After a decade of legal battles over the right to hunt in the Canadian portion of their territory, their case will be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s hard to imagine why, in an era of cultural reconciliation for Indigenous people, this tribe must once again prove their own history. Ironies aside, however, their important story will gain national attention. Several judges in the nation’s capitol are about to get a history lesson.
After 20 years writing and researching about their cultural place in the upper Columbia landscape, I, too, am still learning. Now seems an appropriate time to share an important discovery about the Sinixt, one worth sharing. Recently, while reviewing an archaeological report of investigations of the Kettle River valley in 1978, I came across a reference to a pine dugout canoe used by the Sinixt, one that had been submerged in the Kettle River for many decades. (it was found in 1978 braced by a system of log skids, just upstream of K’lhasxam, or Cascade Falls.) I have written about this discovery for an upcoming article in the North Columbia Monthly, to be published in December. But I want to share the map I created to help me tell the story.
Those who read my blog (or know me well) also know that I love maps. Very old maps have always helped me understand the history of the landscape prior to industrial development. All maps help me make sense of where I am. In an era of digital accuracy, I find more and more delight in hand-drawn maps. This one attempts to demonstrate the rich cultural history of the Sinixt and the Kettle River. It shows how the transboundary river connects to the Columbia, the Arrow Lakes and various parts of what we now call northeastern Washington. Notes on the map trace various discoveries, including ocean shells (dentalia) found hundreds of miles from their home.
Indigenous people have a long history, one that is often unseen or acknowledged. Their history connects us to the land as it once wished itself to be. Sawmills, highways, gravel pits, mines, farms and cities are not recorded here. The only contemporary cultural mark I allow here is a thin grey line at the 49th parallel. Drawn in 1846, that imaginary line is at the heart of the Supreme Court Case to be heard early next year. May it soon be completely erased.