Okanagan Indians. religion and trade

Early in the 1900s a Scotsman named James Alexander Teit studied and wrote about a number of the British Columbia interior  Indians includng those who lived in the Okanagan valley which runs through southern British Columbia and into Washington State.

He reports (page 253) that these people “claim that  the earth was made by the ‘Father mystery’ or ‘great mystery’ –  a mysterious power with masculine attributes ….”   I like the word “mystery” as I figure religion attemps to explaine things we cannot know by empirical observation.

“He (the great mystery) said that everything on earth should be subordinate to the people, and everything would be for their use as they were all his children; and all the people should have equal rights in everything, and would share alike.  This is why all food was shared among the people, and no one thought of  debarring any one else from access to anything required for life.”

I wish this were a part of our current religion although one can speculate the natives did not have an over population problem.  There are numerous reports that they were very helpful to the first white people to enter their territory.

Horses were probably introduced early in the eighteenth century.  It appears horses had considerable impact on the social and economic life of the people.  Previously travel was on foot or by canoe. (Some of them had access to extensive water ways.) Horses allowed more people to travel greater distances and to carry a greater quanitity of goods.  Horses also allowed new methods of hunting and transportation of food over greater distances.  There was greater intertribal trade and even intermarriage.

Today these people are mostly Roman Catholic or fundamentalist,   they live on reservations,  have to deal with terrific social problems including alcohol and drugs. I have been told that 90 percent of them were sexually abused as children. I usually get depressed every time I deal with any of them.

Franz boas and James Teit, Coeur D’Alene, Flathead and Okanogan Indians, Fortyififth Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology,  1927-1928,  United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1930.


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