Special to The Star
HARRISON LAKE, B.C. — Nepal has the Yeti. Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster. North America has the Sasquatch.
Sightings of these legendary creatures provoke fierce debate. Are they hoaxes, figments of overactive imaginations, culturally based metaphorical symbols or are they real?
Hoping to find an answer, we’re sitting in Sasquatch Tours’ high-speed jet boat on Harrison Lake, a two-hour drive east of Vancouver. The four-hour tour teaches about Chehalis’ culture, highlighting their belief in the elusive Sasquatch, and includes a trip down Harrison River to a group of rare pictograms.
We gaze at the snow-capped, forested mountains ringing the lake while Sasquatch Tours’ owner-operator Willie Charlie welcomes us to his Chehalis homeland.
Accompanying himself on a drum, his song reverberates along the 60-kilometre-long lake. It’s a blue-sky day, and the drumbeat, songs and mountain views transport us to the realm of magic and mystery.
Setting his drum aside, Charlie says, “Kla-how-èya! Welcome!
“Everything you see is sacred to us: the land, sky, earth and water. Just as sacred are our stories and legends. They connect us all to the beginning of time.”
As we approach Stone Island, Charlie introduces us to two transformer stones. Chehalis people believe the rocks were once human beings who fell from grace.
“Sasquatch is a slalocum,” Charlie explains. “These supernatural beings can shapeshift into anything. Sasquatch has the ability to walk the two realms, both the physical and spiritual.
“My people believe in Sasquatch. We do not require proof because we know he exists.
“Seeing one is considered a great gift. My brother Kelsey and a companion saw two in 2005: It was an adult and its little one. He watched the adult drinking from the creek and offering water to its young, using its hand.”
Referring to their huge (up to 42-centimetre) tracks, Charlie says, “I’ve seen their footprints but I’ve never seen a Sasquatch. Because they can transform themselves into anything they want, they can never be caught.”
Entering the mouth of the Harrison River, which joins the Fraser River, we near the pictogram site.
“The Transformer Era is over: we lost our ability to shapeshift because of personal greed,” says Charlie. “We call this slowah – a lack of respect for the land and people.”
With a sweep of his arm, he adds, “Mother Earth is in trauma. If we are to restore a balance, we all need to come together at the same table. Each race of people is different: we all have a gift to share.”
Bald eagles soar above us. One plunges into the river, emerging with a salmon. Another suddenly dive-bombs it, making it drop its prey. The aggressor snatches the booty, mid-air, and flaps away. Screaming indignation, the first eagle resumes its search for lunch.
“You should return in salmon spawning season,” says Charlie. “Hundreds of eagles congregate to feast here in November. Sasquatch migrate, too, you know. My grandfather said they come from the Oregon coast and travel to the interior – so, we’re on the Sasquatch trail.”
Berthing the boat on a sandbar, we walk to a rock rising from the earth like a frozen wave, whose crest shelters many red-ochre pictograms.
“This is the largest concentration of paintings we know of,” explains Charlie. “Pictograms are the way my people documented things. We are a water-based people so these sites resemble ancient billboards.”
We notice several nautilus-shaped spirals.
“This is my people’s timeline signifying the interconnectedness of all beings and transformation. We transform ourselves into the spirit world during our ceremonies.”
I stand transfixed. There, ahead of me, is a Sasquatch. Clearly delineated as an upright being, the red-smeared stick image depicts the shapeshifter I’ve been seeking, walking on its two legs, like a human being.
Charlie smiles, nods, but then points to a scar where vandals recently carved a pictogram from the rock.
“This place is sacred, but some individuals don’t respect this. That’s why my family started Sasquatch Tours, to teach others to protect the land before we lose it all.”
JUST THE FACTS
XÁ:YTEM LONGHOUSE INTERPRETIVE CENTRE, MISSION, B.C.
Archaeologists continue to uncover 9,000-year-old remains of Stó:lo First Nations artifacts at this site, which originally bordered a much broader Fraser River.
Today, a replica longhouse depicts how the People of the River lived during summer, while a reconstructed pit house showcases their winter quarters. An immense transformer rock marks where three Stó:lo si:ya:m, or chiefs, were transformed into stone because they abused their power.
First Nations still come to meditate here. Workshops and guided tours offer opportunities to learn more about this sophisticated river culture, and a gift shop sells books, craft supplies, artworks, and other paraphernalia. See xaytem.ca
FOR MORE information, visit sasquatchtours.com, and aboriginalbc.com