Encoded knowledge in oral traditions: Skwxwú7mesh transformer sites and their relationship with landscape perception and use

Date created: 
Pacific Northwest Coast archaeology
Landscape archaeology
Oral traditions
Spiritual sites

This research studies the characteristics and roles of Transformer sites in daily life of people journeying through Skwxwú7mesh territory and the transmission of environmental knowledge through the Skwxwú7mesh oral tradition. Transformer sites are culturally significant places for numerous Indigenous groups in the Pacific Northwest and are so named for their narrative association with supernatural figures from the culture’s oral traditions that could transform themselves and the landscape. Skwxwú7mesh Transformer sites are associated with the journey of four brothers, Xaay Xays, and are located throughout Skwxwú7mesh territory. Many Transformer sites are important for their history and place within a community’s cultural landscape even without human modification. While archaeological sites generally refer to locations where there are material signs of past human activity, that definition does not include places where ephemeral activities took place, or places of cultural significance that were not directly modified by human behavior. Approaches within landscape archaeology provide a lens through which to effectively view and study places where the archaeological record is silent. Visibility, proximity to recorded archaeological sites, and ethnographic analysis, when taken together, can make a strong intersecting argument for how people in the past interacted with specific places and the landscape as a whole. This thesis recorded the physical characteristics of Skwxwú7mesh Transformer sites associated with Xaay Xays, evaluated the visibility of Skwxwú7mesh Transformer sites from water routes through Skwxwú7mesh territory, and compared the environmental and land use messaging from the names and stories of each site to the archaeological, ecological, and ethnographic information of that location. The results showed that the majority of Transformer sites were locations either used directly for resources described in the Xaay Xays narrative or were associated with active archaeological areas, suggesting that Transformer sites were an ever present part of daily life, and that the stories that describe and connect these locations hold information about the environment that was transmitted through generations by telling and retelling these stories. Despite the cultural significance of Transformer sites to Indigenous communities and their potential for archaeological investigation, they are not guaranteed protection under provincial or federal heritage legislation. There is much more that can be learned from Transformer sites and other natural places about people’s interactions with the landscape through time, but first those places must be acknowledged and protected for generations to come.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Rudy Reimer/Yumks
Environment: Department of Archaeology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.