As a child, I remember riding in the backseat of my Aunty Shirley Louis’ car with her and my Grandmother Barbara P. Marchand up front. We were off to interview another community member from our home community of the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB). Little did I know that beside me on the seat was the stack of transcripts that would become a book of offerings to our community QSapi: A History of Okanagan People as told by Okanagan families. Six Mile Creek
In the book, the late Ned Louis, an Elder in the community shares several stories about the community’s place names. He shares the name for Six Mile Creek area, where several homes, a ball field, stores, fields, a park and multiple community buildings now sit, on the Okanagan Indian Band (you can check out its location on google maps).
It’s called sənƛ̓ uxuxtan, place where they were killed by a grizzly bear, and pronounced sn-kla-hootan.
Ned Louis shared the following story in the book:
“Six-Mile, which is really called sn-kla-hootan. Down here [in Six Mile], near the lake, there was an encampment of old people that got slaughtered by a grizzly bear.”
“From the stories from a way back, the old people used to say ‘If you see a grizzly bear with silver tips, there will be one [grizzly]. But you take the mother grizzly [and] she has two, maybe three, small cubs with her…them are the dangerous ones. When one comes after you, they all come.’ Anyway, that’s what might have happened down there…It wasn’t until them guys cut their dogs loose, and [the dogs] got [the grizzly] up on the Six-Mile flats.”
“So that’s why they call this place sn-kla-hootan.”
Sheldon Louis, grandson of the late Ned Louis, refers to his grandfather Ned as, “Poppa.” He grew up in sənƛ̓ uxuxtan where he now raises his own family alongside his partner Csetkwe Fortier.
When looking back Louis says, ‘The Six,’ as it’s known by those who grew up there, was somewhat of a kids paradise.
The place was buzzing with children. Fishing, bike riding, swimming in the creek, fishing with gaffs, running up the mountainside, and staying out until the stars greeted them, or until their families hollered their names and called them back inside.
Ned Louis shares importance of place names, as remembered by grandson
Louis tells us how his Poppa Ned had a very gentle way of sharing important stories.
“He was gentle with us kids, and willing to share stories with us,” says Louis while sitting with his napping son suʔkncut who is the namesake of his Poppa Ned’s sqilx’w name.
Louis recalls his Poppa Ned’s gentle way of instilling teachings through story.
Now, Louis, who’s been sitting at the leadership table for the OKIB for two terms, cherishes the stories his Poppa Ned shared about his great-grandfather the late Pierre Louis, who spent decades at the same table as Chief of the OKIB. Louis says his leadership style is influenced by those stories.
“[Poppa Ned] was really calculated in how he shared what he shared.
“Spending that time with him, it really instilled in me that need to fight for the territory. I still bring up a lot of the things even now, in some of our political meetings. Still his stories and the knowledge he shared, and the teachings he shared, still trickle into those parts of my life, without a doubt.”
Louis also remembers his Poppa’s deep care for his family.
“Poppa having such a large family and taking care of his family all the time, I think that as well really instilled into me the importance of being a family person, and making sure that we always take care of family,” says Louis.
Louis, recalls the teachings his Poppa shared about place names and why it’s important to keep these names alive. Now he shares those memories as an offering to those who grew up without grandparents, or whose grandparents were afraid to share these things as a result of the trauma they incurred in residential “schools.”
“I think it helps in those spaces where maybe other people didn’t have some of that [knowledge]. It helps to inform those conversations and hopefully give new perspectives to people.
“[Poppa Ned] always had that fight in him, to always protect what was our nation’s rights.”
Louis says Poppa Ned felt that knowing original place names and stories were important to reminding Canadians and governments whose land they are on.
The land knows its name
Place names can be used politically to uphold the rights for the Nation, says Louis, but that there is also a spiritual purpose for them. Specifically, they honour the tmxʷulaxʷ (pronounced tim-houle-ow) life force of the land and/or place, by its name.
“Knowing those place names is important because that tmxʷulaxʷ; if you’re not going out there and talking to it, and using that name, that tmxʷulaxʷ isn’t going to know who you are.”
“Young people, if they lose that connection, knowing that deep connection to their land, I’m fearful that we might lose some of the knowledge and stories of those places,” says Louis.
When syilx Peoples visit the land they are born from and acknowledging the tmxʷulaxʷ it makes the land spirits happy.
Louis recalls the teaching of senklip (Coyote) a trickster and teacher in syilx stories. When senklip gets into trouble and dies, his brother Fox must find even just one of senklip’s hairs and step over it to bring him back to life. This lesson is often used when teaching how syilx approach the awakening of language and culture. sqilx’w (Indigenous people) only need one hair of a lesson, teaching, or story, to bring those sleeping teachings, and language back to life.
Read More about How snk̓lip brought salmon to snpinktn
“Everybody out here [on OKIB] knows little bits and pieces of the different names.
“[It’s like,] we’re running around gathering bits and pieces of Coyote, so that way we can put them back together and step over him—even if our kids don’t know every single name—but some of those young people start to learn those bits and pieces then you know, when they get to an age where they start to understand their responsibility and upholding and standing up our people and fighting for our people, those ones who learned those things when they’re young, will still have them and be able to stand those back up and again,” he says.
As Louis and his partner Fortier continue to raise their family in sənƛ̓ uxuxtan, he draws on all of the stories he learned from sitting at his Poppa’s kitchen table. Now, the couple is doing the same thing each morning over coffee, as they pull their son’s high chair up to the table and continue those conversations for the next generation.
“Coming back and giving our children those names too: when our little one suʔkncut was born we wanted to make sure that he had a sqilx’w name so that we could trace that back,” Louis shares. “So that way, when he’s at that age, same thing: He knows who he is. He knows where his name comes from.
“Having that language piece in the naming is important.”
Language Protocol: According to nsyilxcən Language Holders, there are no capitalizations in the spellings of any nsyilxcən words. In an egalitarian society, capitalization insinuates there is something that holds more importance over another, and that does not fall in line with syilx ethics or understandings