Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Since the beginning of time"

Just a few turns of the highway north of Powell River, the First Nations village of Sliammon lies strung along the shoreline. The Sliammon (Kla ah men) are a Coast Salish nation whose territory when the white man arrived included sites from Saltery Bay north to Sarah Point, at the gateway to Desolation Sound, with a population of some 20,000 people.

They have inhabited this area for at least two thousand years*, and their middens and village sites are found up and down the coast. (*Their website says
The Kla ah men people have inhabited this region since the beginning of time.
which I think may be a slight exaggeration.)

Sliammon townsite, from its wide beach. The Catholic church in front was rebuilt after it burned down in 1918. The homes are much more recent.

Their history since the coming of the white men has been, like that of so many other aboriginal peoples, a mournful recital of losses, from the first epidemics of European diseases, to the expulsion from many of their home sites, to the persistent and systematic attempts to eradicate their culture and language, leaving them at present with a population of about eight hundred. Only in the last few decades has there been a resurgence of hope and activity; they are now permitted to keep their children at home, to have local schools, to celebrate their cultural heritage, and to direct their own lives as adult Canadians.

In 2009, the "Sliammon First Nation raised a 30 foot totem pole to honor their family and friends that have passed on before us." (Sliammon Treaty Society) As far as I can tell, that would be this one:

It faces out to sea, from just above the high tide line.

The Coast Salish peoples were not major totem pole builders, and I'm not familiar with their symbolism. From bottom to top, I see an unidentified head, two killer whales, a winged turtle with suns carved into the wings, and a majestic, tragic face.

Detail: crying turtle with outstretched wings.

Is he carrying a turtle, or a fish?

Grief and endurance personified.


  1. Nice write-up on Sliammon! Just a slight correction - the Catholic Church, the Church of the Sacred Heart, burned down on Easter Sunday of 1918 and this one replaced it shortly thereafter, so not 1900. The only thing saved from the original church was the Sacred Heart statue now placed high above the front entrance.

  2. Thanks, Paul. I've corrected the post.


If your comment is on a post older than a week, it will be held for moderation. Sorry about that, but spammers seem to love old posts!

Also, I have word verification on, because I found out that not only do I get spam without it, but it gets passed on to anyone commenting in that thread. Not cool!