The Spirit of the Lake

The story of the sacred creature of Okanagan Lake goes back at least a few centuries, and possibly even thousands of years, to the syilx/Okanagan people who called it nx̌aʔx̌ʔitkʷ [N’ha-a-itk], which means Spirit of the Lake

nx̌aʔx̌ʔitkʷ was feared and respected, though the syilx people did not consider it to be malevolent. They would make offerings to nx̌aʔx̌ʔitkʷ when they crossed the lake near Rattlesnake Island, where it was said to live in a subterranean cave at Squally Point. The sacred being was depicted in petroglyphs and other forms of art as an aquatic serpent and was said to feed on kokanee salmon.

As with other sacred Indigenous beings, nx̌aʔx̌ʔitkʷ serves as a reminder to take care of the earth's precious resources, in this case, the waters of Okanagan Lake.  

From nx̌aʔx̌ʔitkʷ to Ogopogo

Sightings of a lake creature were reported by early settlers in the mid-to-late 1800s. The first encounter was in 1855 when Métis settler, John McDougall, was crossing the lake with his horses tied behind his canoe, as he had done several times before. The horses were pulled under the water, and he had to cut the ropes to stop the canoe from sinking. The first reported sighting by a European Settler was in 1872 when Susan Allison claimed she saw a dinosaur in the lake.

With these settler encounters and ensuing interest in the creature, the myth of the lake monster, Ogopogo, came into existence, built upon misunderstood interpretations of nx̌aʔx̌ʔitkʷ.

Descriptions vary, but specific characteristics have been repeated through the decades: Ogopogo is green with a snakelike body about 25 meters long. Some say its head resembles a horse, while others say it’s reptilian or goat-like. Many even claim to have photographed Ogopogo, but the pictures have always been inconclusive.

Content contributed in part by Justin DeMerchant

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