How Welhqi:um became Snake Island

Snuneymuxw author and knowledge holder Celestine Aleck (Sahiltiniye) shares a story about one of the places in her nation’s territory on ‘Vancouver Island’

This telling of the Snake Island story was written by Celestine Aleck (Sahiltiniye) of Snuneymuxw First Nation. She recognizes Spencer Point for this version of the story, which has been told in different ways. A written version of this story previously appeared here.

Long ago, and still today, our grandparents would take the first grandchild that was born and raise them with all our snuw’uy’ulh (all our teachings). 

Well, there was once a set of grandparents who were raising their granddaughter. Each morning, the granddaughter would wake up, have breakfast, do her chores, receive teachings, and then go out on her town and play for the rest of the day.

Day after day, the grandmother used to walk through the village looking for her granddaughter, but she never knew where she went. One day, the grandmother decided to get an older girl to follow the granddaughter to see where she was going.

So that morning, the granddaughter woke up and had her breakfast, received her teachings, finished her chores and went out to play. Two longhouses away the older girl had been waiting to follow the granddaughter. She saw her come out of her longhouse and snuck behind her to see where she was going.

The girl saw the granddaughter had walked all the way up to the mouth of the river and had jumped into the water. Just as she had jumped into the water, many snakes came out and began to play with the girl, wrapping themselves around her. The older girl saw this happening and rushed all the way back to the grandmother.

“Your granddaughter is at the mouth of the river playing with snakes,” she said.

The grandmother became worried and upset. When the granddaughter got home the grandmother scolded her. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You must play with your own kind, you cannot play with snakes, that’s wrong, that’s bad! No more.”

The granddaughter said: “No grandma, please, they are my friends, I love them and they love me.”

The grandmother replied: “No, you cannot play with them.”

But the granddaughter didn’t listen. She would still sneak away to the mouth of the river each day and play with the snakes. As time went by and she became a bit older, the granddaughter began dreaming of a tall dark figure with red eyes. At the same time, the granddaughter’s stomach began to grow.

Her grandfather asked her: “What happened? Who did you sleep with?”

The grandfather thought she was pregnant, but the granddaughter was too young to understand what he was asking. Because she wasn’t married at that time, she had to leave the village.

So the grandfather took her onto the canoe. They went out past Saysutshun and he left her on the island that is called Welhqi:um. He went back home and the grandmother kept asking where he took their granddaughter, but the grandfather wouldn’t tell her. 

A view of Welhqi:um, or Snake Island, from the water. Photo by Gerry Thomasen.

The grandmother became upset, and when he finally told her, the grandmother got onto her canoe and went up to Welhqi:um. She saw her granddaughter and told her to come down to the canoe. But the granddaughter’s big tummy was gone and the island was covered in snakes. The granddaughter couldn’t get past them.

Since she couldn’t reach her granddaughter, the grandmother rushed home and told grandfather about what had happened.

Grandfather came up with a plan. He told all the men in the village to go home and get their knives — they were going to save granddaughter. All the men got into their canoes and went to Welhqi:um and jumped out their canoes and began to cut the snakes. 

There were so many snakes that the men couldn’t keep up, so grandfather told them to build a fire on the island and to tell granddaughter to jump over. So they did, and she jumped over. 

Granddaughter was OK, but to this day, if anyone ever goes to Welhqi:um, the snakes look like they are cut in half and have no tails.

Our Snuneymuxw First Nations had once fished for blue backs, lingcod and even seal back in the day on Welhqi:um — but once it became Snake Island our people could no longer fish there, for anything caught near the island is bound to have snakes in its tummy.

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