In April, 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the Sinixt/Arrow Lakes tribe are Aboriginal People of Canada. It was the end of a long legal road travelled by this transboundary tribe, to reverse a 1956 Canadian government declaration that they were “extinct.”
The word “extinct” descends through English from the Latin word extinctus, ‘to put out a flame,’ or (as sometimes happened in Mediterranean antiquity) ‘the end of a volcanic eruption.’ In science, extinct means the end of an entire species. The Canadian government’s term is in all ways, ill-applied. The Sinixt did exist in 1956. As did the entire human species, Homo sapien.
Nature abounds with examples of perennial flame. One of my favourite right now is the yucca plant, in bloom across the southwest. The stalk rises like a candle, flowering once in a four to seven year growth cycle. It exists because of the yucca moth, whose female carries pollen from one plant to another, making a nest for her young. The white-winged moth is a “specialist species.” It needs the yucca to survive.
All these years since 1956, and really since colonial settlers arrived in the early 19th century, the Sinixt have survived despite efforts to extinguish them from their homeland. Their language, their diet, their material culture and their spiritual beliefs adapted over thousands of years around the mountain landscape of the upper Columbia River basin. They are a human species specialist.
As I watch the Sinixt begin the joyful process of returning to their homeland, it has an influence. After 35 years in British Columbia, I have decided to head downstream to my own personal homeland – California. I will carry with me the water of a spirit filled to the brim with the opportunity and privilege to work with the Sinixt people for many years. Watch for a greatly expanded 20th anniversary edition of their story, The Geography of Memory, due out in spring 2021 with Rocky Mountain Books……..about the time that the yucca will be blooming again.