In the Stream is a beautiful memoir from an Indigenous woman – a sensitive, dignified portrayal of the Sinixt traditional world prior to colonial contact. Privately published by Nettie Wynecoop Clark in 1985 (and now out of print), I have the family’s permission to make it available here, so that as many people as possible can read and enjoy the experience.
As a child, the author, Nancy Perkins Wynecoop, listened well to her grandmother, Able-One. She committed to writing down what her grandmother had shared and taught her. Drafts of the book were destroyed three times in house fires. Nancy’s daughter, Nettie Wynecoop Clark, collaborated with her sister Fannie Wynecoop Lebret to reconstruct the story from a surviving manuscript held at the Spokane Museum of Arts and Culture (then Cheney Cowles Museum)
I, for one, am very grateful for Nettie, Fannie and Nancy’s dedication. In the Stream is an important contribution to written materials about Sinixt culture. It has been nearly hidden for many years and certainly deserves wide readership.
Born just after 1800 in a birthing hut beside the Columbia River, Able-One was the daughter of Ske-owt-kin [“Shadow Top,” or “tall man”], a Sinixt chief. Before his daughter’s birth, Ske-owt-kin had lost all his sons to European disease, and had himself been blinded by measles. He and his wife saw their daughter as the ‘able one’ who would carry on Sinixt leadership and traditions.
In the 1930s, Nancy Perkins Wynecoop was interviewed for Told by the Pioneers – Volume 1: Tales of Frontier Life as told by those who Remember the Days of the Territory and Early Statehood of Washington. The full interview can be accessed by registered users of the Wellpinit School District (Spokane Indian Reservation) website.
A few excerpts of from the interview:
“My [great] grandfather, Ske-owtkin, was a trapper for the Hudson’s Bay Comp any and brought his furs to Angus McDonald….[he] was tall and very strong. He could kill a deer by taking it in his hands and breaking its neck. Long before the coming of the English traders, he was a great hunter. He used snares, reaching for birds with long poles or used a noose. My grandmother belonged to the Arrow Lakes [Sinixt] tribe, and it was the Arrow Lake country [in British Columbia] where they loved to wander…..”
“My grandmother [Able-One] was my best teacher. It was she who taught me the mysteries of creation and nature’s plan for her children, besides the religion handed down from one generation to another by word of mouth.”
“My grandmother [Able-One] lived with us, clinging always to Indian customs. She preferred…cooking in baskets by placing hot stones among the food. I can see her yet, lifting the hot stones with two sticks and dropping them into the baskets. We might prevail upon her to sleep in the house during winter, but as soon as spring came, we would miss her. We always knew then that she had set up her teepee not far away and would remain there until winter snows drove her in.”
View the PDF here and enjoy your own wander through this priceless, deeply feminine perspective on traditional Sinixt life.