Sasquatch in the traditions of the Coast Salish tribes
The classic name Sasquatch is a word in Chinook dialect derived from a Coast Salish language (Halkomelem) from the lower Fraser Valley, written sasq’ets in phonetics, but pronounced suhsq’uhich.
Coast Salish – Stalo (Fraser Valley)
”Sasquatches are usually seen singly. They are described as men, covered with dark fur, more than eight feet tall, who leave footprints about twenty inches long… The Sasquatches would cause unconsciousness if they touch a person, they would abduct women whom they would keep, they would cause those women to have half-human children and they would steal fish and other food for their Native wives and their children. They were said to have some form of simple language which some women learned and if the woman managed to escape and reenter society, she would suffer bouts of unconsciousness because she had been with the Sasquatches and wasn’t like a Human anymore, she had forgotten her language and hair was starting to grow all over her body.” -Etnographer Wilson Duff
Coast Salish – Musqueam (Mouth of the Fraser Valley)
”According to the old people, walking in the woods everywhere away from the water were the what are called the Sesq’ec (Sasquatch). They were big, resembling a tall person, but tall, far taller than the biggest people here. And it is said that their wives were what the people called Qelqelitl.”
-Professor Wayne Suttle
Coast Salish – Lummi (Olympia Peninsula)
”The C’amek’wes is a great tall animal or whatever it was that lived in the mountains. It was like a man, but shaggy like a bear, like a big monkey 7 feet tall. They went away when the Whites came. The Indians never killed any; it was a pretty wise animal or whatever you call it. If you saw one it made you kind of crazy. They throw their power toward you.” -Professor Wayne Suttle, account by Julius Charles
”The C’amek’wes are big, 7 to 8 feet tall. They whistle only, can’t talk. They whistle when you go out in the evening. Once some White people caught one and tried to feed him. They gave him potatoes. He picked them up, looked at them and threw them away. They gave him meat and he did the same thing. I guess some make you crazy. They are real stlaliqem (meaning powerful). They grow hair on the body. There are none here anymore, but I guess there are some up in the mountains around Chilliwack. If a person could get one for guardian spirit, I guess it would be pretty tough. No, I never heard of one with it. I don’t know what they eat.” -Professor Wayne Suttle, account by Patrick George
Coast Salish – Twana (Puget Sound)
”Mountain and forest giants (C’iatqo) were generally referred to in English as ‘stick Indians’, the Chinook jargon term ‘stik’ meaning ‘forest’. These creatures were of human form, taller than normal human beings, lived in the mountains or rough foothill forests, went naked except for a breech clout, had odorless bodies which enabled them to walk up to the game and kill it before the animal scented them, and could climb vertical cliffs and leap great distances. They were usually invisible. People feared the C’iatqo, but seem to have suffer little harm from them beyond occasional theft of killed game.” -W. W. Elmendorf, 1930’s
Coast Salish – Nanaimo (Eastern Vancouver Island)
”There are three types of creatures similar to Sasquatch. The first two are identical to the mainland creatures, are hairy and black, a bit larger than a man and called Squee’noos and Papay’oos. Even a white man could see these creatures and they have no special powers. However, you could get one as a guardian spirit and it would make you really strong, but they would also make you a little bit, well, unlucky. I knew a fellow once who had one as a guardian spirit and it made him really strong. He could handle the peavey pole with just one hand. But nothing ever seemed to go quite right for him. That was the only problem of having one for a guardian. The other creature is the Kwai-a-tlatl, the ‘tree striker’. It was a lot like the other two but would knock down trees and make a big sound. If you ever tried to follow their tracks they would lead you around in a big circle and make you go crazy.”
-J. Robert Alley, account by a Nanaimo Native Elder
Another aspect of belief that was generally widespread among the Coast Salish, but never much spoken of, was the belief that abduction of women by Sasquatches did in fact occur on rare occasions. An elderly Nanaimo woman, Mrs M. B. said that her people had stories of women being caried away by Squee’noos around the turn of the century. In one case, the woman was her grandmother, and after either returning from the forest, or being returned, she gave birth. The infant was sadly malformed and was in fact stillborn.
”That was not the only time this happened. Another woman was stolen and lived with the Squee’noos in the mountains for more than a year. This was around the same time. She brought back with her a very strange baby, which lived for a little while. He was not right and died soon after their return. I don’t think he was even a year old. These things happened in my grandmother’s time, but nothing like that has happened for a long time. We don’t like to talk much about them.”
-J. Robert Alley, account by Mrs M. B.
—Excerpts from ‘Raincoast Sasquatch’, by J. Robert Alley, Hancock House Publishers
Photos: (Left) Ancient Sasquatch mask at the first Sasquatch Days in 1938, an annual Native lead cultural event in Harrison Hot Springs, BC. (Right) This same mask which had not been seen for 75 years, has been reused in public ceremonies in the last few years.