Summerland museum shares brief history of 'Ogopogo' legend beginnings and what can be learned

'Ogopogo' legend a lesson

The Summerland Museum & Archives Society shared a look back at the 'Ogopogo' this week, and how the traditional Syilx custom was misunderstood to become monster of Lake Okanagan.

"Prompted by misinterpretations of Indigenous legends, early settlers to the Okanagan Valley began to describe encounters with a gargantuan lake serpent," the museum shared in their post.

According to the museum, back in 1872 a local author wrote of seeing an enormous snake undulating across the lake, and similar 'sightings' were reported over the succeeding years.

"In the 1980s, the mania reached new heights when the region’s tourist association offered $1mil for proof of the creature’s existence. The environmental group Greenpeace even listed the creature as an endangered species not to be harmed or captured."

The museum shared the picture of the postcard of 'Ogopogo', as it encapsulates the public fascination with the monster of Lake Okanagan.

But the myth of the Ogopogo originated from misunderstandings and misconceptions of traditional Sylix customs.

The 'monster' of the Okanagan is not really a monster but a spirit, and it is not called Ogopogo but Nxaxaitk. The English spelling for the creature in Syilx is N’ha-a-itk.

"The name tells us a lot about what the creature actually is. When broken down and translated to English, the “N” means inside, and “xa” means sacred, so “xaxa” means very sacred, and “itk” means water, according to Elder and knowledge holder Yamxwa, Marlene Squakin. So the name literally means "There's a sacred being in the water," the museum said.

Oral stories of the spirit share that N’ha-a-itk takes care of the water in the Okanagan Lake and the water systems of the Okanagan Nation.

"While the Ogopogo has been portrayed by settler folklore as a lake demon, N’ha-a-itk is sacred to the Sylix," the museum added.

"For too long, the oral traditions of the Sylix have been silenced. Maybe now we should be focusing our time on listening to Indigenous groups and gaining an understanding of their culture and traditions, instead of chasing 'sightings' of a mythical creature."

The museum encouraged people to learn more information about Sylix culture, and to see a beautiful artwork portraying the legend of N’ha-a-itk at Sncewips Heritage Museum and Gift Store.

The Summerland Museum & Archives Society shares photos and information from their archives every week for Throwback Thursday on their social media, which can be found online here.

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