a cow… or is it?

by Anne

[20th September]

Bella Coola, derived from “Bilxula”, is the last townsite in the valley where land meets the network of glacial fjords, 100kms inland from the outer coast islands of the Great Bear Rainforest. The First Nations who paddled these fjords more than 10 000 years ago, identified the people living in the Nuxalk (now Bella Coola) as “Bilxula”.
Disappointingly, out of season, nothing happens here. The harbour is very quiet; attractions lie out of reach. Soaking in a hot spring in the wilderness would have been top of my list.

bella coola valley maptaken from https://bellacoola.ca/

We find this Totem Pole in Bella Coola, the townsite, soon after listening to a radio show about the horrendous removal of children from their homes:

0026The inscription on the brass plate on the stone reads:

“The story of the pole is reflective of the experience of the residential school survivors and their community and bears a striking similarity to the Nuxalk Creation Story.
The mother sits at the base of the pole and above her are four children. Those right side up are the children who managed to escape going to the schools, often accompanying their parents into areas the Indian agents couldn’t reach, such as South Bentinck and Kimsquit. The government and church couldn’t assimilate the adults because the culture was too strong, so they went after the children. These are the upside down children who were taken away to the schools and forced to abandon their traditional way of life.
Above the children is the father who is upside down and without a mouth. This is to represent the turmoil of life without a voice, as residential schools tore apart families and left parents without power to speak for their children. The blank space above the father represents how the residential schools stole the culture, language, songs and dances from the people and left them with a gigantic void. We used to live all together, ten families in one longhouse. The schools were meant to take our collective culture by turning us into individuals and removing us from our communities.
In the middle of the pole is the sun, flanked by two ravens. The Creator sent us the sun and this represents hope. The two ravens are returning this to us. Above this is a half-man, half eagle, representing the transformation of the people as they reclaim their culture, language, songs and dances. The transformation is taking place through our healing and reclamation of our culture. We are healing ourselves and moving forward as one community.
Alhkw’ntam and the four carpenters sit atop the pole, symbolizing the final goal of total forgiveness of the world and the chance for the people to heal within themselves. This pole is not meant to be a constant reminder of what happened. It’s a reminder to keep working on ourselves, to keep working on our healing. It’s a reminder that if we work hard on something we will accomplish it in the end.”

Totem Poles:

The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe (Chippewa) word ‘odoodem’ meaning “his kinship group”. Totem Poles were not worshipped but they inspired respect.

Who made Totem Poles:

Totem Poles were not created by all Native Indian tribes and their production was limited to Northwest Indian tribes located in the Pacific Northwest Coast in British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. The names of the Northwest Tribes which carved Totem Poles included:

  • The Tlingit tribe
  • The Haida tribe
  • The Bella Coola tribe
  • The Chinook tribe
  • The Tsimshian tribe
  • Coast Salish

In the culture of the Northwest people Totem Poles were erected in the front of a Northwest Native Indian’s home and would show the ancestry and the social rank of the family. The figures carved on the Totem poles could be humans, animals, or other creatures.

Purpose and Reason for Totem Poles:

Totem poles were made to fill a variety of needs, but their primary purposes were to commemorate people or special events. The first totem poles were carved as part of an elaborate Potlatch ceremony which was a great, expensive feast with deep meaning. Totem poles were later created for other reasons. The Principal purposes and reasons for Totem Poles were:

  • Potlatch Pole – to symbolize the generosity of the person who sponsored the Potlatch ceremony
  • Legend Pole – To record a supernatural encounter
  • Memorial Pole – To commemorate the life of an important person
  • Burial Pole – totem poles were used as grave markers, grave posts  or mortuary totem poles
  • Heraldic Pole – Recording the history of clans or families
  • Portal or Entryway pole – through which a person enters the house, identifying the owner and family of the house
  • Ridicule pole, also called shame pole  – symbolic reminders of debts, quarrels, murders, and other objectionable occurrences
  • Indoor House Pole – supported the roof and bore emblems of the clan
  • Welcoming Pole – situated on waterfronts and identifying ownership of the water and surrounding area

~ taken from https://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-culture/totem-poles.htm


There are 17 trails in the valley, but we have come primarily for the bears which means that time allows for only one more short walk.

On this day, then, we choose to do the magical Saloompt Forest Trail:


Photos simply cannot do the experience justice!

Back to camp for a quick lunch before heading out to the platform of camera lenses at the other end of the valley to try our luck with spotting another bear.

En route we pass the cows in the pasture and stop to scan for that one which has adopted a new identity. We are rewarded, but not without the help of our binoculars that magically turn a stump into a pair of antlers. He soon needs to graze a bit so we watch for a while.
The platform yielded nothing on fours legs but we were delighted to find the moose right up against the road on our return past his new herd.


Perhaps not quite the same as out in the wild, but certainly unusual.

Fire and food beckons.

D-day was bound to dawn all too soon; I need to brace myself for the climb out of this adventure.