“Ista” is the name of the first Nuxalk woman, as well as the place and Smayusta (creation story) that relate her to Tatau, the Creator, as well as the land and people who descend from her. It is said she descended on the eyelashes of the sun, and wrapped in a blanket covered in abalone, danced from mountaintop to mountaintop.
During the summer of 1995, Interfor was actively logging on the territory known as Ista (King Island). A group of Nuxalk hereditary chiefs, elders and community members joined with Forest Action Network to declare their opposition to Interfor’s plans. What was intended to be an overnight stay turned into a 21-day journey.
While much has been made of the community divisions created by the stand at Ista, some of those who were there, including Taylor King (Licimutu7sayc), Cecil Moody (Nuqwlqwliyu), Chief Snuxyaltwa (Deric Snow) and Robert Andy said that the real gift of Ista was the strength the experience delivered to the Nuxalk people.
“I went out as a member of band council and came back a hereditary chief,” said Deric Snow, also known as Yulum. “ We found ourselves spiritually.”
The four men shared that their experiences at Ista evolved from their initial roles in protecting the land and became a defining moment in their cultural identification as Nuxalk people.
Elder matriarchs Amanda Siwallace (Numanta) and Lucy Mack were among some of thee Nuxalk ‘superwomen’ camped on Nuxalknalus (King Island) for many weeks to help protect Ista from being clearcut logged by Interfor.
“The elders taught me so many lessons,” Andy shared. “In particular they said, “Never get mad, no matter what happens, don’t lose your self-control.” Amanda shared so many stories with me. I learned to sing at Ista.”
“I found myself there [at Ista] and I realized I was trying to be a white man, and I never could,” said Moody. “The experience out there changed me forever, I came back a different person – closer to the land and tied to the Nuxalk culture.”
Snow recognizes the importance of the event on Nuxalk sovereignty and the assertion of indigenous law, which continues to dominate discussions today.
“It goes back to the Royal Proclamation,” explained Snow. “It’s still a legal document today.”
In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, ownership over North America is issued to King George. However, the Royal Proclamation explicitly states that Aboriginal title has existed and continues to exist, and that all land would be considered Aboriginal land until ceded by treaty.
The majority of BC First Nations have never signed a treaty, the Nuxalk included, although several are actively engaged in the process.
Hereditary chiefs from the House of Smayusta, along with supporting community members and environmental activists were arrested in 1995, some of them spending up to 10 days in jail with no charges. Two years later, Ista was eventually logged. However, the result of the actions were felt for generations, and proved to be a catalyst for the Nation on asserting their sovereignty.
“Our songs, stories and dances remind us of these duties,” wrote Chief Slicxwliqw’ (Charles Nelson), from his Vancouver cell. “Just as the RCMP and the judges enforce their law, we must enforce our laws. We must protect our land because it provides our medicines, foods, our deer and fish.”
Peter Snow agrees. In charge of carving the Ista pole, he’s been putting long and steady hours of backbreaking work.
“Only focusing on only stopping the logging misses the point, because I don’t think that will ever cease completely,” he explains. “We’ve endured smallpox and residential school, there were only 127 Nuxalk people left at one point. Watching the chiefs and elders stand up for their traditional rights at Ista gave us the strength to do the same.
“I’m doing this because of my Auntie, she was there, she told me at the time it was time to move forward with our culture. This is another way for us to do that.”
The pole, which is intended to represent the smayusta (creation story) of Ista and reaffirm the obligation and territorial claim to the land by the Nuxalkmc people, is set to be raised at Ista on Sepember 28.
There will be a feast at the Nuxalk Hall on September 27 that will include a slideshow and the chance to view the pole. All are welcome.
“I would like to invite everyone to bring their positive energy to the feast on September 27,” said Yulum. “The totem pole will be viewed and we are going to be bringing our spirit back to our sacred land where the Nuxalk first women landed on mother earth.”