K’ómoks First Nation Origin Stories

KFN today consists of several formerly separate tribes, both culturally K’ómoks and Pentlatch. The Sathloot (‘sath-loot), Sasitla (sa-‘seet-la), Ieeksen (eye-‘ick-sun) and Xa’xe (‘ha-hey) are all culturally K’ómoks and have their own unique origin stories. The Pentlatch had a similar culture but spoke a distinct language and also have their own unique origin story. These origin stories all tie the tribes’ first ancestors to their respective tribal territories.

We have included a selection of KFN origin stories below, and will continue adding others as we are ready to share.

A Sathloot Origin Story

A long time ago, Cia’tlk’am (‘shal-kum) descended from the sky. He wore the feather garment Qua’eqoe (‘khwhy-khwhy) and settled in Nga’icam (Quinsam). He became the ancestor of the Catloltq (Sathloot). With him, his sister Te’sitla (teh-‘seet-la) arrived. She was so big that she needed two boats to cross the sea. The brother and sister wandered through all countries and visited the Nanaimo…

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A Pentlatch Origin Story

A long time ago, two men, Koai’min (‘koh-yuh-min) and He’k’ten (‘heck-oo-tin) descended from the sky. They became the ancestors of the PE’ntlatc (Pentlatch). Once the sea receded far from its shore and the women went out far and filled their baskets with fish. The bottom of the sea remained dry for a long time. But He’k’ten was afraid that the water would rise that much higher later on…

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Another Pentlatch Origin Story

In the beginning, long ago, there were no people living at Punt-Lutz. Then, a long way back in the woods where there was a lake, a man was made. For a long time he lived there alone eating the roots that he found, and after a time, he woke up, and he saw a woman standing looking at him. She was a fine, tall woman, with long hair that reached right down to her feet; but she had no arms. The man jumped up and ran to catch her…

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K’ómoks First Nation History

K’ómoks First Nation’s history begins with the arrival of their ancestors to this territory at the end of the last Ice Age. Descent from these First Ancestors tie the K’ómoks and Pentlatch tribes to their respective territories. For thousands of years, KFN ancestors occupied the extent of their territories, and harvested and managed the rich natural resources therein. These lands and waters supported thousands of people who developed a rich and sophisticated culture. The disease and warfare that accompanied contact with Europeans in the late 18th century decimated KFN ancestors, just before an onslaught of settlers came to their territories. From this time, KFN has struggled against colonial policies that tried to alienate KFN people from their territories, resources, and culture. Despite all of this, KFN’s ancestors persevered, and current generations of KFN people continue to assert their rights and title to the whole of their territory.

10,000 BC First Ancestors arrive At the end of the Ice Age, the First Ancestors arrive: brother and sister Cia’tlk’am (‘Shal-kum) and Te’sitla (te-‘seet-la) for the Sathloot people (now known as the K’ómoks) in Quinsam; and brothers Koai’min (‘ko-yuh-min) and He’k’ten (‘heck-oo-tin) for the Pentlatch in the Comox Valley. Ancestral K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) people begin to occupy territories spanning from Salmon River in the north to Englishman River in the south, including Quadra, Denman and Hornby islands. Glacier flows, Free Stock photo. Photo credit: Woody Hibbard. 10,000 to 3,000 BC The time of Kumsnō’otl This is a time of transformation. Kumsnō’otl (‘kum-snut-ole) (‘our elder brother’) transforms animals, people and the landscape into their modern forms. This period also includes the story of the Great Flood, important for both Pentlatch and K’ómoks. For the Pentlatch, the Queneesh story describes the origin of the Comox Glacier, the White Whale. The K’ómoks story, less well-known, involves a whale transformed into an island in Gowlland Harbour. “Heritage” (2004), courtesy of Andy Everson. Image depicts Queneesh, the Comox Glacier. 10,000 to 3,000 BC The Sathloot People The ayajusem-speaking tribes – Sathloot, Ieeksun, Säsitla, Xaxe, Komokwe, Yayaquilta – are collectively known as the Sathloot people (who later become called the K’ómoks). Some of these people’s ancestors come from the beginning of time, and others appear in this time of transformation. “Heritage” (2004), courtesy of Andy Everson. Image depicts Queneesh, the Comox Glacier. 3,000 BC to 1 AD K’ómoks and Pentlatch settlements K’ómoks and Pentlatch people establish permanent settlements across their rich land, harvesting shellfish and fishing intensively. The K’ómoks build their earliest clam gardens and fish traps in and around Quadra Island. Orchard site at Kanish Bay, Quadra Island. Photo credit: Dr. Dana Lepofsky. 1 AD to 1700 Developing Culture and Rituals K’ómoks and Pentlatch become more culturally elaborate, formalizing unique practices tied to potlatching, dance societies and inherited privileges, like masks, songs and crests. They share these rights and practices through marriages with their neighbours to the north and south. Some of the K’ómoks tribes become integrated into an alliance known as Kwanis'awt'xw (Que-‘neesh-ack-tow) or Whale House (Sathloot, Säsitla, Komokwe, Yayaquilta and KatkaduL). At this time, there were around 6,000 Pentlatch people and 8,000 K’ómoks people in their respective territories. Incised pebble, found at Puntledge IR#2. Photo credit: Bob Muir. 1700s Adopting the K’ómoks Name A young member of one of the K’ómoks tribes steals a box of treasure containing coppers (the most valuable item in the world) from a supernatural grizzly bear named Komokwe. He then holds a potlatch and the name of his tribe becomes the Komokwe (or K’ómoks in Kwak’wala). Image of a copper, owned by the Mitchell and Recalma families. Image courtesy of the Courtenay Museum. 1763 The Royal Proclamation For the first time in law, the British declare that Aboriginal title exists in the British North American lands they have colonized, with a Royal Proclamation. The Royal Proclamation of 1763, Library and Archives Canada. 1782 First Smallpox Epidemic A pre-contact smallpox epidemic sweeps the Coast Salish world, eradicating between 50 and 90% of the Indigenous population. Several Pentlatch and K’ómoks tribes are decimated. The survivors merge into a smaller number of villages. The population plummets to about 3,000 people. Deserted village, Gulf of Georgia. Watercolour by William Alexander. Source: University of Illinois. 1792 Captain George Vancouver Captain George Vancouver visits the K’ómoks settlement of Ch’kwúwtn (chook-wu-‘wuu-tun) at Cape Mudge, and other settlements in Discovery Passage. Indian Village, Point Mudge. Watercolour by William Alexander. Source: University of Illinois. 1792 Flea Island On June 30, 1792, Captain George Vancouver’s party visits an abandoned village, just to the east of KFN territory in Desolation Sound. There, a well-built fortified village site was found without inhabitants, and Vancouver and his officers ponder what has caused this recent depopulation. Deserted village, Gulf of Georgia. Watercolour by William Alexander. Source: University of Illinois. 1800 to 1852 The Salish-Lekwiltok Wars Lekwiltok raids of Coast Salish territories fuel increasingly destructive retaliatory raiding by Coast Salish people. K’ómoks and Pentlatch tribes end up being attacked by both sides in Campbell River, on Quadra and Denman islands, and elsewhere. The surviving K’ómoks groups relocate to the Comox Valley/Baynes Sound area, near their Pentlatch relatives. At the end of the wars, their population has dwindled down to around 2,000. Com’Quil’Ache, Chief of Puntletz/Comox. Image 5921 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum. 1846 The Oregon Treaty The British and Americans sign the Oregon Treaty, asserting British Title over unceded indigenous lands in British Columbia. This date marks the start of British law in B.C., and serves as the threshold for Aboriginal title. However, this assertion of Crown title over Aboriginal lands was never ceded, or even acknowledged in any way, by First Nations people. Comox IR#1 cemetery, 1860’s. Image 1423 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum. 1849 The Douglas Treaties The Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, James Douglas, signs a number of treaties with First Nations on Vancouver Island. These treaties attempt to extinguish Aboriginal title, in order to open up lands for settlement. Sir James Douglas, Governor of the Colony Vancouver Island (1851 – 1864) and first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia (1858 – 1864). Wikipedia. 1862 Second Smallpox Epidemic Another wave of smallpox sweeps through British Columbia, this time killing about half of K’ómoks people and perhaps as much as 90% of Pentlatch people. The combined population now stands at less than 200 people. Comox IR#1, 1867 to 1870. “The smoke at the far point of land arises from the burning of an Indian girl’s body who died that morning terribly diseased.” – Dally Album #5 – p. 11. Image 1146 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum. 1862 Colonists Arrive Colonists arrive by boat up from Victoria. Officials allocate a single Indian Reserve for K’ómoks and Pentlatch at the mouth of the Courtenay River: Comox IR#1. This opens up the rest of the territory for settlement. The colonists occupy a number of former K’ómoks and Pentlatch village sites along the coast and river, and take all of the best agricultural lands in the Comox Valley. Photo of Courtenay taken from the Back Road in 1880’s. Image courtesy of the Courtenay Museum. 1871 B.C. Joins Canada One of British Columbia’s conditions to joining the Canadian confederation is that they demand to be able to continue their existing policies regarding Aboriginal people and lands, pretending Aboriginal title to these lands does not exist. Sir Joseph William Trutch, first Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia (1871 – 1876). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. 1875 The E&N Railway The E&N Railway Act transfers huge swaths of Crown land into private hands, in exchange for E&N building the railway up Vancouver Island. This transfer from the Crown to private ownership essentially alienates this land from KFN. Train parked at E&N railway station in Nanaimo, 1927. 1876 Joint Independent Reserve Commission The Commission administratively merges the K’ómoks tribes (Sathloot, Säsitla, Ieeksun and Xa’xe) with the Pentlatch, to create the Comox Indian Band, now known as the K’ómoks First Nation (KFN). The Commission establishes Indian Reserves for KFN at Comox (IR#1), Puntledge (IR#2) and Goose Spit (IR#3). They deny KFN requests for a reserve on Denman Island. Comox Village IR#1, 1860’s. Image 879 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum. 1876 The Indian Act The Government of Canada solidifies all previous Aboriginal legislations into one piece of assimilationist legislation. John A MacDonald is the architect of The Indian Act, which seeks out to deal with the “Indian Problem”. First Nations people are defined as ‘wards of the state’, lacking individual property rights and the right to vote. Sir John Alexander Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada (1867–1873 and 1878–1891). Photo: The Canadian Press. 1883 Cumberland Coal Fields Extensive coal fields are developed in Cumberland and the Tsable River, with washing and shipping facilities in Union Bay, which alters the K'ómoks Traditional Territory forever. The fields create massive amounts of pollution and coal debris, leaching contaminants into the intertidal area around Union Bay, killing sea life and harming the ecosystem. No. 6 Mine tipple loaded coal cars, 1898–1917. Courtesy of Cumberland Museum and Archives. 1885 to 1951 The Potlatch Ban From 1885 to 1951, Canada outlaws the practice of potlatching, the foundation of Indigenous ceremony and self-governance, in an effort to eradicate Indigenous cultures and assimilate them to the rest of the population. K'ómoks Village, 1901. 1880s to 1940 Logging all of the Comox Valley The Comox Logging & Railway Company is the largest logging company in the British Empire. They cut down all of the first growth forest in the region, which creates massive ecological impact to wildlife, especially salmon. Almost all regional salmon spawning habitat is either damaged or destroyed. Logging was the main economic driver of the Comox Valley from 1860-1960. Photo courtesy Courtenay & District Museum 2000.158.41 1901 Canada Census The 1901 Canada Census identifies only 67 KFN members, and shockingly few children. K'ómoks House, circa 1901. Image 1157 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum. 1914 Comox Lake Dammed The lake is dammed at the outlet to the Puntledge River to provide hydroelectricity. This spawning barrier had a severe effect on migratory salmon, particularly sockeye, who need to spawn in lakes. Comox Valley Record; file photo of Comox Lake Dam. 1920 to 1960’s Residential Schools During this period, many young K’ómoks people are sent to Alert Bay, Kuper Island, Sechelt, Port Alberni or elsewhere, to residential schools. The schools become notorious for their horrific child abuse and racism, and leave generations of Indigenous people scarred. St. Michael's Indian Residential School entrance, with two students on the driveway, Alert Bay, B.C. is shown in 1970 (Library and Archives Canada). 1940 Joe Nim Nim passes away Pentlatch hereditary chief and last speaker of the Pentlatch language, Joe Nim Nim passes away. Joe Nim Nim and his daughter Emily Nim Nim in front of his home at Puntledge IR#2, circa 1939. 1940 Salmon River Band joins
K’ómoks First Nation
Members of the Salmon River Band (or Hahamatsees) vote to amalgamate with KFN, bringing Salmon River IR#1 into KFN. KFN membership increases by about 20. Salmon River estuary, part of the K'ómoks traditional territory.
1955 to 1958 Strathcona Dam at Campbell River The Strathcona dam is constructed on the Campbell River. This alters the upstream ecology and creates Upper Campbell Lake, which decreases habitat for elk and beaver, and floods possibly hundreds of KFN heritage sites. Construction of the Strathcona powerhouse looking downstream, 1950s. Courtesy of the Museum at Campbell River. Credit: Godfrey Baldwin. 1950s to 1980s Local fisheries collapse Fish are the most important, abundant source of traditional K’ómoks food. By the 1930s, commercial fishing becomes a key economic driver and major source of income for K’ómoks people. However, a combination of overfishing, industrialization, land development and poor forestry practices causes the previously rich fisheries to collapse. Salmon stocks and the herring runs dwindle to 10% of their previous numbers, wreaking havoc on the Indigenous economy. Pictured here is the W-8, community member Doug Shopland’s 66 foot Seine boat (built in 1926), on the water near Comox. Photo courtesy of April Shopland. 1956 Totems at Lewis Park Chief Andy Frank organizes a traditional ceremony to raise two totem poles at Lewis Park. Ancient songs and dances are performed and high-ranking First Nations people attend in ceremonial regalia. The poles were arranged for by the Royal B.C. Museum, and carved by Mungo Martin, David Martin and Henry Hunt. Carving of the poles for Lewis Park. 1958 The K'ómoks Big House The K'ómoks Big House (Kumugwe) is constructed on what is now known as the fairgrounds by G.P. Vanier Secondary School (only the second built on the coast since the early times), funded by the City of Courtenay and individual donations, as part of the Centennial project in the spirit of reconciliation. Construction of the K'ómoks Big House. 1960 Right To Vote Until 1960, the only way a First Nations person could vote was to give up their status (voluntary enfranchisement). In 1960, the federal government passed the Canada Elections Act, extending the vote to include all status Indians. First votes cast after full enfranchisement was extended to status Indians, Rice Lake Band near Peterborough, Ontario. Photo source: Library and Archives Canada. 1970s to 1980s KFN loses shellfish beds The Province of B.C. leases out almost all of the shellfish beds in the Comox Valley and Baynes Sound privately, excluding KFN from access to one of their most important traditional resources, and eliminating a valuable source of income. Many shellfish beaches become too polluted to harvest from. Goose Spit Regional Park; Comox Valley Guide. 1972 to 1987 The Community Pool The K’ómoks Band Council approves and begins the construction of an outdoor community swimming pool. The pool was an important part of many KFN members’ childhood memories. It brought the community together for many years until 1987 when it closed due to high maintenance costs and safety concerns. Kids enjoying the K'ómoks pool in summertime. 1974 Big House Moved Chief Norman Frank moves the Big House (Kumugwe) to its current location on Comox IR #1, to honor the late Chief Andy Frank’s wish to see it on reserve land. 1985 Changes to the Indian Act Bill C-31 passes, amending the Indian Act and ending discrimination against Indian women who married non-Indians. It results in the addition of many new members to B.C. Indian bands. 1987 New Housing Developed Following the amendment to the Indian Act, there was an increase in band membership, creating a need to expand housing on reserve. A new housing subdivision began on IR#1 along Back Road (Sathloot Crescent), the largest on-reserve development to date, which continues to be developed in phases. 1989 McIvor v. Canada "The Court ruling stems from a civil law suit that Sharon McIvor launched in October 1989, in her bid to acquire the ability to transmit Indian status to her grandchildren. Ms. McIvor claimed that section 6 of the Indian Act was discriminatory in that it treated the descendants of Indian women who married non-Indian men differently from the descendants of Indian men who married non-Indian women." Sharon McIvor talking at the microphone during a hearing about missing and murdered Indigenous women in British Columbia, held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Courtesy Daniel Cima, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights/Flickr CC2.0. 1994 The I-Hos Canoe The canoe is carved by Calvin Hunt, Mervyn Child and others. KFN members use the I-Hos canoe on Tribal Journeys, where First Nations canoe families from across the Pacific Northwest gather and travel together. The I-Hos launched July 21, 1994, with members paddling to the Common Wealth Games in Victoria. Canoe carving in progress. 1995 & 2000 Mary Clifton and Irene Wilson pass away The last two speakers of the Island K’ómoks dialect pass away. Mary passes in 1995 just shy of her 95th birthday. Irene passes in 2000 at the age of 86. Mary Clifton on the left. Irene Wilson on the right. 1995 The I-Hos Gallery K’ómoks opens the I-Hos (I-‘hoa-ss) Gallery on Comox IR#1. The distinctive cedar carving on the housefront of the gallery depicts a pre-contact marriage between chiefs. We see Qua’eqoe (‘khwhy-khwhy) at the centre, a Sathloot first ancestor with the I-Hos double headed serpent, which has come south with the marriage between the Sathloot and We-wee-kai. 1997 to 2006 Hamatla Treaty Society K’ómoks joins the Hamatla Treaty Society alongside a number of neighbouring Indigenous bands in 1997 to negotiate a collective Treaty settlement with the Crown. In 2006, K'ómoks withdraws from the society to independently pursue a treaty, in the best interests of its members. 2001 The KDC Health Centre K’ómoks gets a health centre on Comox IR#1. K’ómoks and Kwakiutl District Council (KDC) part ways in 2021 as K’ómoks seeks to establish its own Health Services. 2004 Pentlatch Seafoods Pentlatch Seafoods Ltd is incorporated by K’ómoks Economic Development Corporation (KEDC), wholly owned by the K'ómoks First Nation. The shellfish aquaculture company holds intertidal leases for oysters and clams in Comox Harbour and Baynes Sound, with worldwide sales of over two million oysters a year. 2005 Puntledge RV Campground
and Interpretive Centre
The Puntledge RV Campground and Nim Nim Interpretive Centre open on IR#2 (Courtenay). The Nim Nim Interpretive Centre displays artifacts and cultural objects associated with KFN history.
2007 British Columbia Treaty Commission (BCTC) accepts K’ómoks’ Statement of Intent. KFN begins the Treaty process on their own, as they had previously been engaged in the process as part of Hamatla Treaty Society. The British Columbia Treaty Commission (BCTC) accepts K'ómoks' Statement of Intent. 2012 The K'ómoks Treaty Agreement The K’ómoks Treaty Agreement in Principle (AIP) is approved and signed by KFN, Canada and British Columbia. The AIP outlines future KFN self-governance, identifies treaty settlement lands and cash transfers, and protection of KFN cultural and harvesting activities. 2013 Salish Sea Foods K'ómoks purchases Aquatec Seafoods and it becomes Salish Sea Foods, a storefront seafood retailer and restaurant wholesaler in Comox. 2015 Whale House building opens The new administration building opens, known as the Whale House. Since ancient times, the K'ómoks people would gather together every year and form the Kwanis'awt'xw or Whale House. This was our true power: unity. On this day, December 12, 2014, we called our people to once again come together in the Whale House. We call on our ancestors to guide us; to ensure that the decisions made within the walls of this new building will be sound ones that benefit the continued strength of the K'ómoks people. The Whale House (new K’ómoks Administration Building) on Comox Road. 2015 The Guardian Watchmen K’ómoks launches the Guardian Watchmen program. The group is involved in ecological restoration, fisheries, archaeology work and wildlife management within the Traditional Territory and employs between three and eight KFN members. K’ómoks Guardians out on the water setting a cedar bough to collect herring roe during the spring herring run. 2016 Land Code Ratified KFN members ratify the Land Code by a vote of 92%. The Land Code enables KFN to independently manage reserves lands and resources, as well as law-making authority. 2016 Water and Sanitary Sewer Services KFN and the City of Courtenay sign a water and sanitary sewer services agreement for Puntledge IR#2, replacing wells and septic, which opens up development potential for the lands. Construction started in 2019 and completed in 2021. 2016 Forestry Tenures Opportunity Agreement K’ómoks and Qualicum First Nations, and Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations – sign a Forestry Tenures Opportunity Agreement, a Disposition Agreement and First Nations Woodland License. 2019 Mortuary House built KFN constructs a mortuary house at the cemetery on Bayside Drive. This mortuary house was built with a capacity of 400 cedar boxes, in anticipation of the repatriation of more than 100 sets of KFN ancestral remains from museums and universities, and as encountered in ongoing developments.

Our Languages

tuwa akʷs χoχoɬ ʔa xʷ yiχmɛtɛt (ʔa) kʷʊms hɛhaw tʊms gɩǰɛ

“Care takers of the ‘land of plenty’ since time immemorial”
(Language: Ayajuthem (eye-uhh-juu-eth-em))

The K’ómoks First Nation is proud to be a part of two dominant cultures, Northern Coast Salish as well as Kwakwaka’wakw. Historically, our ancestors spoke Pentlatch or ayajusem (Island Comox dialect). They would also have been familiar with a number of neighbouring languages such as Kwak̓wala, given extensive trade and intermarriage. Their language use was complex, and evolved over time.

Language Revitalization Efforts

K’ómoks First Nation and its members are undertaking the huge task of language revitalization, and several classes are offered for both ayajuthem and Kwak̓wala. KFN is inclusive of all of our cultures.

Kwak̓wala: through the revitalization of our Northern Coast Salish roots and celebration of Kwakwaka’wakw culture, we are rebuilding our unique K’ómoks culture. Kwak̓wala has been the most accessible language for K’ómoks to celebrate, it being used in potlatches and for other ceremonial purposes.

In addition, Kumugwe Cultural Society (a K’ómoks member led society) is doing a Kwak̓wala language revitalization project, Wiga’xa̱n’s Yaḵ̓a̱nt̓alape, which is going into its second year as of 2021.

Ayajusem: K’ómoks has a few language warriors who are working towards bringing back the Island Comox Dialect, ayajusem. The K’ómoks First Nation Cultural Coordinator has been working closely with our sister nations, Homalco, Tla’amin, and Klahoose, who share the same traditional language, ayajuthem (Mainland Comox Dialect). We are collaborating as a working group to find a way that we can all share in language and cultural teachings between our nations, and determine how we can best share this information with our communities.

Pentlatch: in recognition of our Pentlatch ancestry, we have worked closely with a professional linguist to reconstruct a Pentlatch blessing to be used in cultural work.