Ktunaxa Trapping and Agriculture
Origins of the Seasons
Well, I will tell you a story of what happened long, long ago in this world. They were staying at a certain place a long time ago, and summers and winters were very long. There was a town. It was winter time. A man named Coyote went into the tent of an old woman, who gave him food. The old woman was named Squirrel. Squirrel said; "There is no more food, and it is a long time before spring will come. What shall I do? There is no more food." Coyote said; “Well cry." Then if the people come in and ask you, "Why do you cry' don't answer. When they have all spoken to you, I shall say to you, "Do you say that your food will be gone long before spring comes?" Then you will say ‘Yes! Then Coyote went out. Squirrel thought that what he had said was good. Then she cried. She cried aloud. The people in the town said; “What is the old woman saying?" They went there, and questioned her. She did not speak. Coyote went there. He said to the old woman; "Do you say that you will have no more food for a long time? Then the old woman cried no more. She said: “Yes" The people said; "What shall we do to make spring come?” There was another town, and there they kept the seasons. After twelve months had passed, these people would untie the springtime and the summertime and the fall of the year. Then they would tie up again in the winter. Therefore they said; "Let's go and steal it!'s Then they started. Now, those up in the sky counted that the winter would last six months, and that six months more would pass before spring time. They arrived at that town, and said; "Whoever can walk secretly shall go there." There was a boy. It was known that he could walk secretly. He was told; “You shall steal it." Then he started. He almost came to the tent. He worked his magical power. After he had done so, his power spoke to him, and told him what he was to do when he entered, and where it was hanging. He took some gum. He entered the tent; and when he arrived, they said; "Whoever can throw farthest shall take it, after it was thrown out. Then he shall throw it away; and the one who is the strongest shall stay on the prairie on the hillside. It will be thrown there; and when he catches it, he shall tear it at once." There was one very strong man. His power was Grizzly Bear. He was told; "You shall tear it.» Then the youth went in. He saw an old woman standing there. She said to him; "It is mid-winter." Then he said to her; Where is the springtime? He was told; "It is hanging there." He said to her «Where is the summer? She told him he was holding the gum. He held it in his hand close to the fire. The old woman thought that he was warming his hands, for it was cold. She did not know that he was heating the gum. After some time it melted. Then he attacked the old woman and stuck the gum on her mouth. Then he went to get the thing in which she had said the springtime was kept. He pulled it off and carried it out. Then the old woman ran out quickly. She intended to speak, but could not speak. The gum was stuck on her mouth. It was just seen that the old Woman was moving her arms, pointing in a certain direction. They went that way. When they got there, she pointed to her tent. She pointed that way. They looked on, and the springtime was gone. They looked for it, and it was known that the people were carrying it away. Then they made war on them. They wanted to destroy all those who had stolen it. When they were about to overtake them, another one took hold of what they were carrying. It was he who could throw farthest. When the pursuers were almost about to overtake them, he threw it. There on the prairie hill the strong one was standing. He worked his magical power and turned into a Grizzly Bear. He caught it because he was strong. The thing that contained it was strong. He tore it. There was wind. It was not long before there was more snow, and it was spring.
Therefore spring has six months, and there are six months in winter. The old woman did it when there was no food.
Now I have told you how the world was long ago.
Robert Louie Sr.
The elder that we worked with to get information for our reconciliation project with the museum was Robert Louie Sr. He gave us a lot of information and was very helpful with the project. We appreciate his help.
Robert Louie Sr. is a descendant to the flatbow Kootenais of Lower Division. He was born into his culture and has lived within his ancestral territory his whole life. Robert is one [of] the last fluent speakers of his era within the Lower Kootenay Band.
Robert was taken to residential schools when he was a young boy but ran away and was able to grow up in his community.
Traditional Trapping and Hunting:
Sturgeon nosed canoes were used to transport the duck from where they were hunted to where they were eaten[.] The ducks were used for meat of course but the carcass did not get thrown out after the meat was removed. No the hide/skins were used for footwear and other clothing. The same method that was used for the fish to preserve the population was used for the ducks. The duck chief would come and look at the animals and decide what was kept and what was released.
He said that the people would make traps for fish and they would use red dogwood to make traps from a few feet long to 10 feet long. They would fish in the creeks in the area such as the summit creek, corn creek, [and] crawford creek. When the fish were caught they would be examined after which they would be separated in sizes and the small(not mature) fish would be released, this was done to conserve the fish population.
Most of the Ktunaxa’s big game came from deer; the hides were used for clothing and footwear.
The Ktunaxa people of this area hunted grouse. The woods are full of grouse, especially in the mountain areas. They hunt blue grouse or Ruffed grouse. You would go out with your flat bows and your hunting group and kill the grouse then bring them back to their family.
They used mule deer muscle to make snares to trap and they would use snares to trap ducks and rabbits.
When & Where to Hunt & Plant:
Best time to hunt
The best time to hunt was fall to February otherwise it would taste like wood because they didn’t have enough nutrients in their system. When hunting each hunter would only take as many animals as he could transport home. The Ktunaxa hunted elk in the fall.
Where to hunt
White tailed deer would commonly be found at sanca which is located down the lake road. It was a pretty popular place to go hunting. The deer chief would also tell them where to hunt. The Ktunaxa liked to hunt mountain goats despite the fact it was a difficult animal to get in the rugged mountains. The Ktunaxa also made good use of birds in their area. One of the easiest to capture was the fool hen or grouse.
When to plant your crops
When the moon turns blue in the springtime all the plants should be planted by that specific time. If they didn’t plant them by that time there would be no food ready for winter. The time to plant the crops could sometimes vary between different types to make it the best quality of food.
What time to collect the crops
Wild onions were very common to plant. Large quantities of wild onions would be collected in the spring so they could be dried and ready for winter. Moss could be collected anytime of the year. Bitterroot was one of the most important food sources for the Ktunaxa. They knew bitterroot was ready for harvesting by the time the skin surrounding it could easily be removed. Balsam roots would be dug from March through April.
Seeding & Cultivating:
Types of crops
Most of the food eaten was from farms therefore there was a lot of pressure on the farmers. In the Kootenays there were many types of wild crops these foods would help feed the families of the Ktunaxa people, these foods were wild onions, wild cabbages, wild carrots, and wild potatoes. Some of these plants were found only in certain places in the area, such as cabbages that were usually found near rivers like corn creek. In a swamp near Nick’s Island you could find potatoes. Use Banks of rivers and lakes, to plant your foods, and hillsides for greenhouses. Wild rhubarb found at corn creek was used along with traditional bread to make rhubarb pie. Bottom of the rhubarb could be used to make an Elk call. Drink lots of tea made out of cedar. Drink it to clear out your system. Chokecherries used for different types of syrup that could clear your blood. Same with hawthorn.
The Ktunaxa people used animal bladders filled up with water to irrigate their crops but they still needed to plow their fields and so they made plows/cultivators out of caribou antlers pulled by horses and used bear claws to pull roots to clear the ground for planting.
Plant & Animal Conservation:
Deer, Elk, and Caribou
Deer, elk, and caribou are important parts of the food supply in the Ktunaxa cultures in this area. And as such it needs to be conserved. There are many ways that the Ktunaxa people did conserve their animal and plant life but this is my favourite way they did it. They would set fire to the forest floor to burn the foliage in a controlled manner. This clears the land of useless shrubs and leaves room for fresh grass to grow for the deer, elk, and caribou to eat. This would increase the population of the deer families and raise opportunities for hunting and trapping and for opportunities for the communities to collect food.
When a duck nest was collected for their eggs the nest would not be moved or disturbed in its place the eggs would be collected but the aboriginal people of the Kootenays would not take the life from the nest instead they would insure that the ducks would prosper. They would leave five eggs in the nest to preserve the life of the animals.
When you are responsible for a water body, you have a certain responsibility to keep the animal life on the water alive, starting with the fish. If you kill every fish you catch, even the small and immature, then the population will decrease and ultimately disappear. So the ktunaxa people did something different that would ensure this didn’t happen. There would be a special person in the community who would decide if the fish was mature or not, and if the fish would be killed and eaten or not. The fish that were caught were kokanee salmon, bull trout, rainbow trout and bass. They would either be smoked/dried or eaten right away. If it was dried then it could be saved for winter.
As a big part of Ktunaxa culture the cedar tree needed preservation so all the trees aren’t chopped down leaving nothing for the future. So when it came time to collect the wood from the trees in the forest the whole tree would not be cut down, leaving some of it standing would ensure that the tree grew back so it could be harvested off again in the years to come.
During a purposeful forest fire, the pine cones heat up causing the cones to explode so the seeds would fly everywhere planting pine trees all over the freshly burned ground.
As a group and with the help and guidance of Robert Louie Sr. we hope to change this exhibit in a positive and useful way. There are a few things that we have thought of and most of these ideas are in the drawings and in our initial plan. Some things that we hope to add are things like objects that show how things were done in the Ktunaxa culture like farming and hunting ex. elk or caribou antler used for plowing and cultivating. We plan to make an interactive way to show how the job was accomplished, as shown in the drawing. There are other things like the sturgeon nosed canoe or teepees that are ways to show the Ktunaxa culture and history in the trapping and agriculture part of Canada. We hope that this project fulfills some lost part of the Ktunaxa culture in the Creston Valley.
The plywood these posters are displayed on will eventually have a mural painted on it. Robert Louie Sr recommended an Eagle Feather be the main image on the mural. An Eagle Feather is one of the highest honours an Indigenous person can receive. It is also one of the only things status Indigenous people can own while non-Indigenous people cannot. In this mural an eagle feather can represent a symbol of reconciliation, a symbol of courage and hope. It is important we all work towards reconciliation so we can rise above the hate and stereotypes that prohibit true reconciliation from happening. Eagles are important to Ktunaxa because it flies close to Nupika. Our hope and vision is that this mural is painted by a Ktunaxa artist and a Creston community member so the mural itself is an act of reconciliation.