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The story of S-hwu-hwa’us and Qul-lhanumutsun



I am honored to share this Salish S-hwu-hwa’us and Qul-lhanumutsun design by Quw’utsun artist Shawn Johnny. Photo submitted by Jared Williams

There is a glossary of Hul’qumi’num words at the bottom of this article

A community member recently asked me if I could tell the story behind the Cowichan Tribes logo, which features Thunderbird and Killer Whale — so I wanted to share the significance of where it came from.

Before I begin, I must say that this story is not mine; I do not write it from my own creation. Instead, this story is owned by all Quw’utsun mustimuhw as it is our story from time immemorial. This story has been shared down from generation to generation and it is intended as a true account of how the people summoned their greatest helper in the time of their most dire need.

Since the beginning the people have relied on salmon

Back when the river and the earth were still new, when people and nature were one and the same, when our first ancestors spread from their mountain home to the villages we know today, from the ancestral villages at the base of Swuq’us down to Ye’yumnuts and later down to Kwa’mutsun — the villages of the Quw’utsun mustimuhw have relied on the salmon runs. These villages were built by dedicated generations of Hwulmuhw mustimuhw who took the time to see the salmon as a relation. They knew that if they could create strong habitat and spawning grounds for the Stseelhtun, they too would thrive.

In fact, our ancestors were so dedicated to the art of salmon-shepherding that they built an elaborate system of salmon weirs. Salmon weirs are fences built across the river to redirect and bottleneck the salmon to make it easier to identify them and fish more selectively. These fences were built by driving willow branches into the river bed, creating a fence. Some weirs, most of which were annually reconstructed, used tripods and had willow mats over top or strong walkways connecting them. 

The Quw’utsun mustimuhw have been relying on this weir technology for so long that Stseelhtun from the Quw’utsun Sta’lo have grown thinner and taller, to be able to push between the willows in a weir fence. Eventually, any tribe in the area could identify a salmon that came from the Quw’utsun river due its slender shape. 

Every year, the people would harvest with special care to allow the stronger males and the majority of the females to pass through the weir and travel upriver to spawn. This would create stronger and more prolific generations, year after year, for thousands of years. I also want to note something important here: Weir technology allows its owner to block off the whole river and deplete the entire salmon run. This means the tribe, village, or house at the mouth of a river could effectively stop the salmon from returning and collect the fish all for themselves. But in the entire history of our people, no one ever did this. Everyone always thought of the weirs, houses and families upriver who relied on those salmon runs just as much as anyone else.

The massive Qul-lhanumutsun arrives

One year, however, the fish didn’t come up the river. The annual salmon run was set to start and the weirs were all built and ready to catch the salmon, but no fish came. Hwulmuhw from all of the villages ran to the mouth of the river to see why the fish were not coming. But when they crested the last hill and could look out upon the estuary, they were awestruck by an enormous Qul-lhanumutsun. It was bigger than any they would have ever seen. 

The shoreline was covered with people watching as the massive Qul-lhanumutsun devoured their salmon stocks and prevented any from making their way up the river. The splashing white water turned red with salmon roe and blood as the great whale feasted upon the Stseelhtun. The great warriors assembled and paddled out in their canoes, singing war songs. They pleaded with the Qul-lhanumutsun to leave, lest they unleash their harpoons upon it. But the blood lusted Qul-lhanumutsun did not hear their calls and its massive body was unaffected by their spears. Defeated, the warriors paddled away.

They say that then, the wisest medicine people gathered together their strongest medicines and they prayed for four days. They sang sacred songs and used ancient instruments that only they could play. The medicine people worked tirelessly and as one, with true Nutsamat Shqwaluwun. They sang in one voice and of one mind and called forth the Quw’utsun people’s strongest ally, the S-hwu-hwa’us. 

It began as a faint sound in the distance, like wind coming in from the sea, but the rumble would grow. The people gathered upon the shoreline and fled the water as they heard the thunder coming towards them. From over Hwutsala’utsum, S-hwu-hwa’us flew down and its shadow darkened the estuary. For a second, the great Qul-lhanumutsun ceased its feast and turned its bloodshot eyes toward the shadow that descended from the mountain. The great whale twisted its tail and readied itself for the fight to come.

Sunrise in the estuary of the Quw’utsun Sta’lo, near where the battle took place. Much has changed with colonization — this empty beach was once a thriving eelgrass garden rife with biodiversity and sea gardens as far as you could see. This estuary once fed the people much more than just stseelhtun. Photo by Jared Qwustenuxun Williams

The fight of the Thunderbird and the Killer Whale

As S-hwu-hwa’us descended towards Qul-lhanumutsun, it opened its eyes to judge where to land its mighty talons. When the mighty bird’s eyes crested open, massive bolts of lightning struck the water, sending water and salmon in all directions. But the giant Qul-lhanumutsun was ready and leapt from the water, thrusting its mighty teeth towards S-hwu-hwa’us and nearly biting the great bird’s leg. When S-hwu-hwa’us finally landed, it plunged its talons deep into the back of the Qul-lhanumutsun. The massive whale kicked and shook with all its might but it could not break free. With a thunderous flap of its wings, the great S-hwu-hwa’us ascended into the sky carrying the massive bloodthirsty Qul-lhanumutsun with it. The people watched on as the two fought in the skies above Qw’umiyiqun, with the whale breaking free and biting the great S-hwu-hwa’us before being captured by the mighty bird’s grip once again. The two fought on for hours, dripping blood and feathers all over the lower part of Pi’paam mountain. 

In the end, the great S-hwu-hwa’us prevailed and placed the defeated Qul-lhanumutsun on top of Pi’paam mountain, allowing the salmon runs to return and the people to be fed for another year. But year after year, the people never forgot the great power and benevolence of the S-hwu-hwa’us – they even went on to name many sacred places after their magnificent hero. But that’s a story for another day.

Hul’q’umi’num words used in this story

Hul’q’umi’num – Language of the Quw’utsun People

Hwutsala’utsum – Koksilah Ridge

Hwulmuhw – Indigenous Person

Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw- Indigenous People

Kwa’mutsun – Quamichan Village

Mustimuhw – People

Nutsamat Shqwaluwun – Of one heart and one mind

Pi’paam – Mt Tzouhalem

Qul-lhanumutsun – Killer Whale (Orca)

Quw’utsun – Cowichan

Qw’umiyiqun – Comeakin Village

S-hwu-hwa’us – Thunderbird

Shhwuhua’uselu – Place of the Thunderbird 

Sta’lo – River

Stseelhtun – Salmon (generic)

Swuq’us – Mt Prevost

Tl’ulpalus – Cowichan Bay

Ye’yumnuts – Village site

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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors




From left: Whitney Cardenas, Chris Ingle and Jaden Sampson were at the career fair with PIB’s fire department. Photo by Athena Bonneau

During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.

The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.

It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.

The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more. 

Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).

Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.

Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.

“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.

“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”

Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau

As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience. 

“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.

Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.

Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.

“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.

“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”

Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.

“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.

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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect




sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr., an 18-year-old syilx Youth from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, pictured at Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court on Nov. 3. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.

The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves. 

So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops. 

“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band. 

“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”

Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.

In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.

“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.

But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed. 

At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.

“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.

Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.

He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.

In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.

“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.

A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached. 

“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.

This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”

Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.

“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.

He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process. 

“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.

Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.

Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.

“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.

“Honestly, it could save someone.”

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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’




The Sweláps Market features Secwépemc language and culturally-influenced architecture. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) is celebrating a new community-owned grocery store that’s bringing food options and employment opportunities to the reserve. 

The grand opening for the new Sweláps Market is set to take place on Thursday at 11 a.m., and will include speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting. It will also feature week-long deals and prize draws, giveaways and food samples. 

The Sweláps Market is located in the Chief Louis Centre, and had its soft opening on Oct. 19.

The market is owned by TteS but is open to everyone. The store displays signs in Secwepemctsín (Secwépemc language) including a welcoming of Weyt-kp above the front door. 

The language also labels each department of the store such as q̓wlem (bakery) and ts̓i7 ell swewll (meat and fish). 

On the market’s website, each department is listed with audio files to hear the proper pronunciation.

Sweláps translates to “bighorn sheep” and the logo represents the sheep’s horn among the mountains and North and South Thompson rivers.

The 22,000-square-foot grocery store incorporates culture into the architecture, including a Secwépemc weaving design on the ceiling and a wooden ladder outside which resembles the entrance of a pithouse. 

After the ladder was carved on-site by Charles Dumont, the owner of Coyote Contracting and a TteS band member, and his son Ryder — a ceremony was held to bless the log as it was put into place. 

General manager Kara Stokes spoke about the importance of having a market in the community, given that, before now, the closest grocery store was off-reserve and across the river.

The vision for a band-owned grocery store goes back ten years, Stokes recalled, with multiple locations explored before settling on the Chief Louis Centre.

Before the store’s opening, Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir expressed high hopes for the store’s impact.

“This project will bring food closer to home, create employment, and further strengthen our economy,” she said in a community statement. “It will be a source of pride as leadership is fully implementing a community driven opportunity.” 

Before opening, the public was kept up to date through updates and upcoming events listed on the market’s website.

A members-only job fair was held in September to give band members a chance to explore the job opportunities before opening it up to the public.

Between full-time and part-time job openings, the market employs a total of 65 people in management and frontline positions.

Stokes explained that the job openings are a helpful addition for TteS. 

“That opens up the opportunity for a lot of people who live in the area to be able to work in the area,” she said.

Since the store opened to the public last month, Stokes said she has served customers of all ages and varying family sizes. The market is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

“Everybody’s been coming in and shopping and it’s really amazing to see the support from the community to be able to provide this service,” she said.

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