A Storied Land:
The Flood and the Distribution of the Lillooet People
Many ethnographers in the past have documented the history and culture of the Lillooet people. All of them captured the importance of the land in the Lillooet culture. The following story illustrates this connection.
The previous picture is seen on maps of British Columbia as Gunsight Mountain, it can be found on the northwestern end of the Little Lillooet Lake. In the UCWALMICWTS (lower Lillooet dialect), the name of this mountain is pronounced In-SHUCK-ch, meaning “split like a crutch” (referring to the split precipice at its peak.) In-SHUCK-ch has great significance in the origin stories of the Lillooet.
The following version was acquired by James Teit, an ethnographer working for the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, in 1912:
All the Lillooet people lived together around Green Lake, and for some distance below Green River. At the time there came a great and con tinuous rain, which made all the lakes and rivers overflow their banks, and deluge the surrounding country. When the people saw the waters rise far above the ordinary high-water mark, they became afraid.
A man called Ntci’nemkin had a very large canoe in which he took refuge with his family. The other people ascended the mountains for safety; but the water soon covered them too. When they saw that they would probably be drowned they begged Ntci’nemkin to save their children. As for themselves, they did not care. The canoe was too small, however, to hold all their children: So Ntci’nemkin took one child from each family, -a male from one, a female from the next, and so on.
The rain continued falling and the water rising, until all the land was submerged except the peak of the high mountain called Split (Nci’kata). [The mountain is situated on the West Side of the lower end of Lillooet Lake and is also known as In-SHUCK-ch.]
The canoe drifted about until the water receded, and it grounded on Smimelc Mountain. Each stage of the water’s sinking left marks on the side of this mountain. [This mountain is just opposite Pemberton Meadows, to the northeast, and is rather low and flat. It has a number of flat terraces on its side, which are said to be marks of the receding flood.]
When the ground was dry again, the people settled just opposite the present site of Pemberton. Ntci’nemkin with his wives and children settled there, and he made the young people marry one another. He sent out pairs to settle at all the good food places though the country. Some were sent back to Green Lake and Green River; others were sent down to Little Lillooet Lake and along the Lower Lillooet River; and some were sent up to Anderson and Seton Lakes. Thus was the country peopled by the offspring of the Green Lake People.
The St’át’imc are the original inhabitants of the territory which extends north to Churn Creek and to South French Bar; northwest to the headwaters of Bridge River; north and east toward Hat Creek Valley; east to the Big Slide; south to the island on Harrison Lake and west of the Fraser River to the headwaters of Lillooet River, Ryan River and Black Tusk.
The St’át’imc way of life is inseparably connected to the land. Our people use different locations throughout our territory of rivers, mountains and lakes, planning our trips with the best times to hunt and fish, harvest food and gather medicines. The lessons of living on the land are a large part of the inheritance passed on from St’át’imc elders to our children.
As holders of one of the richest fisheries along the Fraser River, the St’át’imc defend and control a rich resource that feeds our people throughout the winter, and serves as a valued staple for trade with our neighboring nations. The St’át’imc can think of no other better place to live.
Ci wa lh kalth ti tmicwa (the land is ours). The St’át’imc hold Title, rights and ownership to our territorial lands and resources. We are ucwalmicw (the people of the land). We are a nation, not an interest group. As proclaimed by our ancestors in the Declaration of the Lillooet Tribe, May 10, 1911: We claim that we are the rightful owners of our tribal territory and everything pertaining thereto. We have always lived in our country; at no time have we ever deserted it or left it to others. The source of these rights is St’át’imc law.