The Story of ISTA

Told by Skyakw (Karen Anderson) on 6 March 1996

Each Nuxalk Family has their own "Smayusta" as to how their first ancestors descended to Earth. Smayusta means origin stories, traditional names, territory, songs, dance, language and dialect, etc. Certain Smayustas are very similar to all Nuxalk families. Nuxalknalus (King Island) is where the story of ISTA comes from.

ISTA is the name of the First Woman who descended to the land on Nuxalknalus. Our Elders tell us that ISTA came down to Earth and decorated her crest on a blanket with abalone shell and danced up the coast.


Aalh7aya kuka
wa silhcwayctimutalhs
t'ay i ya uhu

Alhquxwqxiixwtimut ts'n
t'ay ti snuslq'ayalsaw
t'ay i ya uhu


Iputsutnalus sakw ats
yaw ta alhqwntayam
sut'ay i ya uhu

Nutl'ikmaktnam ts'n t'ayc
Sa snutl'xmulhlayaltaw
t'ay i ya uhu


Wa ayi yaa hi yaaa
Wa ayi ya hi yaaa
Wa ayi ya hi ya ayi ya uhu

ISTA was greatly admired for how she chose to show her connection to the Creator. Traditional family names are handed down and validated at potlatches. When the Nuxalkmc travelled to visit or to potlatch in their Territory often they would stop at ISTA where they would be fed and taken care of.

Right: Skwucwlikwana (Lucy Mack) and Nunanta (Amanda Siwallace) preparing salmon the traditional Nuxalk way in 1996. These two Nuxalkmc Elders inspired us to go to ISTA.

So that you can understand the significance and importance of ISTA as it was told to us, we share with you Skwucwlikwana's Smayusta.

Skwucwlikwana remembers her grandparents telling her that she had a very important name. "She" who invites people to feast is the translation of her name. Her grandparents told her: "Your name comes from two islands." She always knew that Nuxalknalus (King Island) was one of the islands. It may be possible that the other island is part of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).

When the world was first created, Patsallht, First Born, thought he was the only one on Earth. He was given a medicine box. In the medicine box, there was a "mukw." He travelled the land, then he came across a group of Sisawk People (Society of Chiefs), those who wore headdresses. He was ashamed because he was not a member of the Sisawk, so he continued his journey. From the medicine box, he took shame. He took the trait of being stubborn because he chose not to approach the Chiefs, and he took jealousy because he was jealous of the Chiefs. He continued his journey, then he met a group of people in a boat. He hollered at them and asked if they would give him a ride. They told him to come aboard. First Born was instructed to cover his head and not look.

He felt the impact of four big waves then he realized that the people he was really travelling with were killer whales. They travelled to Whannock (Rivers Inlet). The weather was so rough and the boat capsized. First Born took the boat and mended it with the pitch from the trees. He burnt the boat over a fire, and that is why killer whales are black today. First Born chose not to continue his journey with the Killer Whale People. He travelled on foot to the head of South Bentinck, Ats'aax.

Along the way First Born met a beautiful woman wearing a red blanket. He fell in love with her. She proposed to him asking him to get married. He agreed. She told him, 'close your eyes,' and she built him a beautiful home out of hemlock. He opened his eyes and was amazed at how quickly she was able to complete their home.

First Born and his wife, the grizzly bear woman, raised a puppy as if it were a child. This puppy was very unique for his paws and his feet were like those of a human being. Sometimes his wife would would leave for three or four days and not tell First Born where she had gone. During those times, she reverted back to being a grizzly bear. When First Born found out that the woman that he married was really a grizzly bear, he left her for good. She became a grizzly bear and never returned to being the woman that First Born had married.

First Born refused to leave his home once the grizzly bear left him. He would not leave the hemlock house that she built him. The people followed the puppy and this is how they located where First Born is living. They begged him to come and feast with the, but he would not leave his home. Finally, they offered to paint their faces black. It was on this condition that First Born agreed to leave his home and feast with the people.

Seven families offered their daughters to marry First Born. He chose only one and remained with her. They may have had one child who was a son. A woman from the Istamc was warned of a raiding party that would come to their Territory. The Elders say people from as far away as South America, cannibals came and wiped out the entire people of ISTA.

Today, the Nuxalk woman honor the memory of ISTA with the song and a dance that is used to clear the path for one of our most important dances, the "Dance of Thunder."

Left: Skyakw (Karen Anderson), Faye Edgar and
Susan Elliot dancing the ISTA Ladies Dance in 1996.


Nuxalk Smayusta Homepage