Potlach near Victoria in the 1890s (Chicago Field Museum photo)
Saanich Legends Won’t Gather Dust
A collection of Saanich Indian legends by Indian teacher Christopher Paul, who died at the age of 83 at his home on the Tsartlip Reserve April 14, will be made available for educational proposes.
Randy Bouchard, director of the B.C. Indian Language Project, and Dorothy Kennedy, research assistant, said today it was Paul’s express wish that all his works, including his legends, be made available to both Indians and non-Indians.
“The stories will enrich the folklore of southeastern Vancouver Island,” Bouchard said. “No comparable collection has been put together from this area since the early 1900’s.
There are 40 legends in all. Twenty are by Paul and the others by Philip Pelkey, an East Saanich Reserve Indian, who died in 1974.
Paul saved the Pelkey legends by taping them before he (Pelkey) died.
[Missing]…assisted Paul in recording the old Indian stories.
They make fascinating reading. One legend tells the story of how the Saanich Peninsula was flooded many years a ago and how the Saanich people saved themselves by anchoring their canoes on the top of Mount Newton.
Another story tells how the beaver bacame extinct on southern Vancouver Island.
“We lost remarkable man,” said Bouchard. “He was a fusion of both the Indian and non-Indian lifestyles. He was never evasive and spoke freely on all aspects of old Indian traditions.”
But Paul will be chiefly remembered by anthropologists and Canadian universities for his work in preserving two Indian languages.
He belonged to a small group of Indians who speak the Straits Coast Salish language, and thus was a direct link with the past.
He also spoke Cowichan which is a dialect of the Halkomelem Coast Salish Ianguage. He learned it from his mother who was a member of the tribe.
Some of the closely related dialects of this same language are Songhish, Sooke and Becher Bay Clallam. All are on the verge of extinction.
In his later years, Paul became aware that his language was disappearing and with it would go the basic traditions and culture of his people – and so would their identity.
With this in mind, he began working 10 years ago with various linguists and anthropologists towards preserving the Saanich and Cowichan languages.
He taught both languages at the University of Victoria, Camosun College and the Saanich language at the Tsartlip Elementary School between 1971 and 1975.
He also assisted in the preparation of two practical dictionaries – one for Saanich and the other for Cowichan.
He was a major source of information for a number of thesis, articles and books.
The information in the provincial museum handbook – Food Plants of the B.C. Indians, Part 1, Coastal People – by Dr. Nancy Turner, was largely supplied by Paul.
But for the general public, It will be for his legends and stories of the Saanich and Cowichan peoples which he taped, including those of Pelkey, that he will be remembered.
As the gentle and kindly man once said: “I believe in the miracles of the Indian and Catholic faiths. And I expect another miracle. And that is some day all non-Indians will understand and appreciate the culture of my people.”