If we keep talking about this land & water as British Columbia, or just plain old B.C., we’re never going to get settler culture behind us, but if we change it to an Indigenous name, or a name in the local trade language, Wawa (which is the sound a baby makes when it doesn’t know how to make words in an adult language, but is giving it a good wailing try), we have a chance to grow the place, rather than continually referring back to an ever romanticized and receding history while our towns burn or otherwise degrade under pressure from the great Canadian metropolis, Vancouver, to the south. Yesterday, I suggested Lahal, the ancient stick game, or Illahie, the Wawa word for the social rights that adhere to land, especially around the stick games called fish weirs. I’ll put links to my earlier posts, with detail and pictures, at the end of this post.
For now, I’d like to consider that river flowing north from Musqueam on the Salish Sea, named The Fraser River on the map above, and suggest its ancient name, the one given to Alexander Mackenzie when he was guided on well-developed ancient trails across the Interior Plateau to the great and ancient wooden cities on the sea: Ouregon. The word is known well today from another place:
Up there on its northern border, you can spot the Columbia River, of which British Columbia is a part (the British part). When Euroamerican explorers got confused about where they were, they named that chunk of land and water south of it Oregon, after Ouregon, not realizing that they were in the wrong place, but got the best river. Up north, though, in what was left as the British chunk of this territory, we got the right river…
…but the wrong name! I think we can fix that. Ouregon is a name for the oolichan, or candlefish or smelt in settler lingo, that was a vital trade item for thousands of years. It was packed up from Bella Coola and brought down the Ouregon to the great trail linking the region’s two basalt regimes, the Okanagan and the Similkameen, and outwards from there. It was so important that every language had a word for it, although no two words were exactly the same. Ouregon was one, the grease trail river, the trade river, or just The Way, really. A word honouring the ancient history of this land, an Indigenous word at that, and one honouring an essential river and the land and people it is bound to (um, all of us, even those of us who live in the Columbia), is a fine choice, even if Oregon gets confused. They should be used to that by now. Right, and as I promised, some links, for more on this all:
First, to get the idea of land out of the way:
And then to set aside the settler idea of water:
And then illahie and slahal (with more links at the end) from deep in the one land-and-water story that we all share:
There’s a lot of good stuff linked in that one. I hope you’ll visit. And when you’ve traveled deep into this story, then a question: