Enshrined Ktunaxa culture explored on Kootenay Lake

Kootenay Lake

Arrive filled with questions and leave with the gift of knowledge

by Ilana Cameron

I was anticipating the stories and the beauty of the lake but I didn't expect to come home changed, to feel the very landscape under and around me to have shifted into focus, to come alive with a deep and powerful legends that were just waiting to show themselves.

We take history for granted, where only a select few stories seem to stick in our minds. But there are so many stories, so many histories that surround us that we are completely oblivious to. This is just one of the many opportunities you can take to learn about the rich Ktunaxa culture.

Lake and Legends Boat Tour

Where: Kuskanook Harbour (27.1 km from Creston Visitors Centre).

Budget: $125 per person (min 5  / max 7)

Ages: 8+

When: (Book a date through Legend Logos, at the Yaqan Nukiy Heritage Centre)

What to bring: Snacks, a camera, sunscreen, a light jacket, a hat and your questions for Robert Louie.

We arrived at Kuskanook Harbour at 8:30 am for our 9:00 am tour. There, visitors and locals took advantage of the calm conditions, getting ready for their own adventure via kayak.

Robert Louie, a Ktunaxa elder, greeted Jensen and I at the Kuskanook Harbour dock. We swatted a few mosquitoes and waited for the other tour guests. Robert gave an introduction, explaining his daily practices, some of the context for the stories he was primed to share with us, and what we'd be seeing on our journey.

Dean was our friendly boat captain for the trip, he runs Blacktail Ridge Charters. You can book him to take a group to the other side to spend the day fishing on one of the many beautiful and remote beaches. Once we boarded the boat we headed to see pictographs on our side of the lake.

Robert Louie explained what the Ktunaxa use to make the paint and what their paint brushes were made from to paint the pictographs thousands of years ago. He pointed to a mountain across the way and explained it was the chief of the lake. Its protector. This continued throughout the tour, mountains became legendary creatures with stories and adventures that explained how they got there. Tree lines and their shapes lay the foundation of legends. 

A great deal of shoreline is explored during the tour. Each cliff side or beach, another place Robert has seen by canoe many times before. Stones jutting out of the lake at times have no pictographs, but have the shape of a wolf head. Remnants of a legendary time before the Ktunaxa people roamed the land. 

The Coyote, Bear, Frog and Sturgeon all have a role, shape and influence on the stories told by Robert. 

It's important to listen carefully and ask questions during this tour. Robert draws from 10,000 years of history, he does it eloquently and with levity. It's an opportunity of a lifetime to see this landscape through his eyes and the eyes of his people, the Yaqan Nukiy Ktunaxa or Flatbow Kootenay people. 

For a lighthearted story about some one the first encounters the Lower Kootenay Band had with settlers and explorers, ask about "Ugly Face".

Robert not only shared the stories of his people. He told us of his past. Having escaped a residential school and survived on his own as a child, he serves as a reminder of Canada's darker past. Robert, himself is living history that many either choose to ignore or forget. 

But I want to learn more!

The Lower Kootenay Band website offers some deeper insight in the history of the lands that surround Creston. 

Yaqan Nukiy Heritage Centre includes Custom Embroidery, Cultural Gift Shop, Eco Tours, First Nations crafts, souvenirs, t-shirts, jewellery, moccasins, tipis. Artisans working on-site.

The Legend Logos Shop has unique gifts including buckskin products, crystal dream catchers, and original First Nations art embroidered on gift items. A custom embroidery service is also offered. Watch local First Nation artisans working on-site, manufacturing gift thems. Explore the rich heritage of the Yaqan Nukiy peoples who have lived in this area for over 10,000 years.