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The Guardian

‘Like copyrighting Moses’: palms off our water spirit, say First Nations

Ownership of the Ogopogo legend has renewed discussions over the appropriation of traditions and the challenges Indigenous nations face to reclaim their tradition ‘This sacred water spirit has become a fishing derby mascot that sells apples, beef jerky and irrigation lines,’ says Coralee Miller, from the Sncewips Heritage Museum. Photograph: Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images People living on the shores of Okanagan Lake have lengthy mentioned that darkish, curling waves sign the presence of Ogopogo, a monstrous serpent lurking beneath the floor. A handful declare to have seen the lengthy inexperienced physique and horse-like head of Canada’s personal Loch Ness monster. They inform tales of a creature that when nearly killed a settler when it dragged his horse into the depths. And each few years, new video footage renews pleasure that Ogopogo has been discovered. Indigenous residents inform a really completely different story: certainly one of a sacred water spirit whose id has been warped by outsiders. Now, a move to return possession of the Ogopogo legend to a First Nation has renewed discussions over the appropriation of traditions – and the challenges Indigenous nations face in reclaiming their tradition. Okanagan Lake is a 84-mile sliver of water in British Columbia, famed as a summer time trip spot, and as home to the monster. But Ogopogo lately grew to become the main focus of controversy when the town of Vernon granted a kids’s creator permission to make use of the monster’s identify for his upcoming e book. The metropolis had held the copyright since 1956 when it was donated by an enterprising native reporter, however that reality was not extensively identified, and the revelation that native officers had management over the identify got here as a shock to close by First Nations. “We equated it to someone taking ownership over the Bible and suddenly copyrighting the name Moses,” mentioned Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band, one of many seven communities of the Syilx Nation. “The idea that someone can take ownership of your teachings and your religious beliefs is absolutely unacceptable.” After Louis and others voiced considerations, the council voted in late March to switch the copyright to the Syilx Okanagan Nation. “It’s much more than just simply a gesture,” mentioned Louis. “It’s the town saying ‘This is not ours. This is yours.” The name Ogopogo comes from an English music-hall song, but the creature itself is based on a Syilx water spirit named n ̓x̌ax̌aitkʷ (pronounced n-ha-ha-it-ku) The Sasquatch – derived from the Halkomelem word ‘Sasq’ets’– has gone from being a cautionary story for youngsters to a lumbering forest ape named Bigfoot. Photograph: Jarvell Jardey/Getty Images/iStockphoto Although the Ogopogo is depicted as a fearsome reptile, the Syilx say the spirit, which may take the type of a darkish serpent with antlers, spends most of its time in its true type: the water itself. The Syilx would sing to the spirit, gifting it sage, tobacco and salmon. But early settlers mistook the presents as sacrifices to a monster. “The gifts were an acknowledgment that the blessings and abundance we have come because of our water,” mentioned Coralee Miller, from the Sncewips Heritage Museum. Over the years, purported sightings of the creature grew to become more and more widespread however the which means of the n ̓x̌ax̌aitkʷ progressively pale. “What is supposed to be a metaphor for taking care of the water and the people that are connected to it gets lost,” mentioned Miller. “Now, this sacred water spirit has become a fishing derby mascot that sells apples, beef jerky and irrigation lines.” The controversy additionally speaks to broader questions throughout Canada over the appropriation of Indigenous storytelling: Ogopogo is much from the primary cryptid to be remodeled by non-Indigenous retelling. The Ojibwe wiindigoo was historically described as a large, foul-smelling creature with an insatiable urge for food. Now referred to as the wendigo, it’s depicted as a wiry creature with antlers, used to promote manufacturers of gin and tea. The Sasquatch – derived from the Halkomelem phrase ‘Sasq’ets’– has gone from being a cautionary story for youngsters to a lumbering forest ape named Bigfoot. Sightings within the wild persist, however these days it’s way more prone to be seen hawking snowshoes, beer, camper vans or beef jerky. “It’s outsiders choosing which aspect of our culture to elevate, not us. And often, they choose just the cheesiest interpretations of our cultures – and this becomes what we’re about,” mentioned Robert Jago, a Kwantlen First Nation citizen and outstanding author on Indigenous points. “I don’t think you can find [many] children in a Salish nation that know the name of their god. But 100% know the name Bigfoot.” The observe speaks to a broader trivialization of Indigenous tradition, through which headdresses and sage which are offered as novelties regardless of pleas from Indigenous individuals, Jago mentioned. “People treat these requests like an esoteric curiosity. They’re confused, they wonder what this could possibly be about,” mentioned Jago. Ogopogo’s immense reputation as a advertising and marketing instrument misses out on the essential meanings behind the story of n’x̌ax̌aitkʷ, mentioned Miller. After a C$1m bounty was positioned on the Ogopogo within the 1980s, Greenpeace declared the serpent an endangered species. But whereas the group centered on the beast itself, they didn’t take motion over air pollution of the lake, she mentioned. “We see diapers and beer cans being tossed into our lake,” mentioned Miller. “And [Greenpeace] wanted to protect Ogopogo,” mentioned Miller. “They were so close. They almost understood what needed to be protected.”

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