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.
Wonderful photo and read! Thanks so much!
Fred Wah says
Thanks for all the work and heart you’ve put into your projects here in the Koots. Your work on the Sinixt has been personally very valuable as well as a great gift. Though I know your path to the south, I am saddened to not have you here at hand. I’m sure you’ll be a frequent visitor. Always room for your tent here on the east shore.
I am delighted that you are coming home. As your childhood friend I look forward to hearing about your Canadian life. BUT I look forward to taking you down memory road and going to visit the beach, mountains and everything in between! Let’s start with Martinez first. Cant wait to hear about the tribe that was extinct but rose from the ashes because they deserve acknowledgment.
David Coleman says
It has been a pleasure and an education to read your books and a privilege to meet you in person at the Arrow Lakes Historical Society’s archives. Thank you for opening my eyes to all the Sinixt culture that surrounds me every day. Best wishes.
Edith Dagley says
So beautifully written with respect and pride for these peoples that you have worked for and written about . Very exciting news that they are recognized again .
Linda Stanley says
Beautiful, Eileen, this readers rejoices that you can add additional chapters to your meaningful work in British Columbia, the Northwest, and in the river area. Love hearing about the indigenous people and the natural history.
Safe travels, Eileen. I hope to have occasion to meet you again. Maybe you n Cali thus time!
Linda Crosfield says
Oh Eileen…well, if you must leave I can’t think of a more appropriate time for you to go after all you’ve done around the finally-settled Sinixt issue. I’ll miss our occasional lunches. Wishing you the very best!