A dry-rack set up in the Fraser Canyon for wind-drying sockeye near Bad Rock. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Bad Rock Tours offer rollicking ride through Sto:lo territory

More than 700 place names documented by Naxaxalhts’i, also known as Sonny McHalsie, Sto:lo historian

Bad Rock Road Tours will hit the highways, rolling through Sto:lo territory later this month, courtesy of Sto:lo Tourism and Cultural Education.

The newly revamped tours are a whirlwind way for individuals or groups to gain meaningful insight into the Sto:lo place names researched by Naxaxalhts’i, Sonny McHalsie, a Sto:lo historian.

McHalsie is the vibrant narrator of the tours that meander through Yale, Hope and Chilliwack, stopping in Popkum, Thunderbird Mountain, Kawkawa Lake, Coquihalla Fishing Rock, Telte-Yet Pithouse. He brings encyclopedic knowledge to the task, and the stories are at times revelatory, hilarious, hair-raising, sad, haunting, but always powerful, in the pure expression of the Sto:lo world view.

“I want people to understand that we as Sto:lo people have a rich culture and a rich heritage. The land is important to us and I want people to understand how closely we are connected to the land.”

He’s been studying the unique relationship between Sto:lo, who are the People of the River, and their physical environment, for more than 30 years. It is his life’s work. His purpose.

“My biggest dream is that all Sto:lo people start using these place names,” McHalsie said.

There is a battle to retain the knowledge of the sacred sites, many of which have been swallowed up by and erased by development.

McHalsie can reel off Halq’eméylem place names for transformer sites, and the many places of significance, that dot the land throughout the Sto:lo territory, So’lh Témexw.

The 732 place names he has painstakingly documented carry the knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation, for thousands of years.

For non-Sto:lo, the tours open up a window into the holistic world view of the Sto:lo. One of the elements of it is the belief that ancestors’ spirits dwell in the rocks, rivers, mountains and creatures.

“I hope they come to understand something about our world view, and to respect it. Western Society has its own view. These are two paradigms that can’t really come together. We can’t use one paradigm to explain the other. We need to respect each other’s perspective.”

Bad Rock Tours have been developed under the aegis of Sto:lo Nation’s Sto:lo Tourism operations.

“Sto:lo Tourism serves a function of bringing authentic Sto:lo cultural education and experiences to the public,” said David Schaepe, director of the Sto:lo Research Centre, overseeing tourism.

“Our cultural tourism program has developed over that past eight years very consciously as a way of implementing elements of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, motivating reconciliation and community-building by raising awareness of the cultural landscape of the Fraser Valley for those who live here and those visitors passing through.”

The goal is highlighting Indigenous tourism in the Fraser Valley, that will put them on the map.

“Bad Rock Tours is a keystone element or our available experiences,” said Schaepe, adding that they’ve been collaborating with Indigenous Tourism BC and Tourism Chilliwack on various initiatives.

“Other options under development include our Coqualeetza Grounds Tour, as well as our newly renovated House of Long Ago and Today longhouse tour.”

The cultural tours have been evolving over the years.

McHalsie thanks the old ones for their exhaustive teachings, and was fortunate to work with fluent speakers of Halq’eméylem. He is credited as cultural advisor on the expansive and ground-breaking work, A Sto:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas, as well as adjunct professor at University of the Fraser Valley.

McHalsie outlines three important aspects of the culture.

“The first is the Sxwoxwiyam, the stories of Xexa:ls and the distant past, two is the Sqwelqwel, more recent news and family history, and three is Shxweli, the spirit and life force carried in the place.”

The elders look at those stories as being true accounts of what really happened.

The name of the tours, Bad Rock Tours, is a nod to the famous rock, near Yale, known as Bad Rock, or Lady Franklin Rock, where McHalsie pauses to share legends and details. The rock is known as Xéylxelamos.

Xéylxelamos was a shxwla:m, a medicine man, or Indian doctor. But word got out the selfish Indian doctor was using his powers to make money to benefit himself, so in punishment, he was transformed by Xexa:ls into the large rock named Xéylxelamos.

The Fraser Canyon holds so much heritage.

“This was always the favoured place where people lived,” McHalsie said.

The Census of 1838 from Fort Langley indicated that about 60 per cent of the Sto:lo population lived in that narrow, arid stretch of the Fraser River near Yale.

“Everyone came up here to dry salmon. And if you think about it with no freezers, and no canning jars, the only methods to preserve salmon they had were drying or smoking the fish. So the whole society was organized around the fish.”

Only later were the communities pushed to move down the valley to the more fertile lands for agriculture pursuits.

When McHalsie describes the supernatural creature, T’litequo Spa:th, as an underwater black bear who lives in the waters near Franklin Rock, you can almost make out a faint shadow moving deep down in the water.

2018 Bad Rock Road Tour Dates: May 26, June 16, July 14, August 11. The tours run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at a cost of $80 per person, or $64 for seniors, children and groups of four or more. Tours leaving from the Welcome Figures outside the Sto:lo Resource Centre. Reserve at 604-824-3211 or email stolo.tourism@stolonation.bc.ca.

 

Naxaxalhts’i, Sonny McHalsie, is the Bad Rock tour guide. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

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