Bigfoot Encounters

'Don't tease' the sasq'ets
By Paul J. Henderson, The Times

<--Graphic: The official Chehalis band logo is the sasq’ets. The reason the
legs look cut off is because the image depicts the creature in shallow water.
Legend has it there is a spot in the river near the band’s reserve where the
sasquatch wades across. Photo by submitted artwork to the TIMES

April 15, 2011 -- As a seven- or eight-year-old boy, Chehalis Chief Willie Charlie was playing down by the river on the band's reserve with some cousins when they heard an eerie, high-pitched screech come from up the river.

"It was a yell and my crazy cousin screamed back," Charlie told the Times in a recent interview. "Within a few minutes it was even closer and my cousin screamed back again. A few minute later it came from directly across the river."

Charlie and his cousins were so terrified they ran to his grandmother's house and hid, crying under the kitchen table.

"My grandmother asked us what was going on and when we told her she said 'you crazy kids you shouldn't be teasing him,'" he said. "That was the sasq'ets.'"

The word "sasquatch" was coined as a mispronunciation of the Halq'emeylem word "sasq'ets" by J.W. Burns, an Indian Agent in the 1920s on the Chehalis reserve.

Burns was fascinated by the stories from local First Nation about this wild man in the woods. He sent word out for hunters to come try to find the creature and in some ways is responsible for the local fascination in sasquatch.

Harrison Hot Springs sasquatch research legend John Green explained that "sasquatch" and "sasq'ets" are just two out of hundreds of words that First Nations all over North America have for the cryptid.

Idaho State University anthropologist Jeff Meldrum goes further, saying to the myth and story-telling of the wild man spans the globe from Russia to the Himalayas and beyond.

Charlie said sasquatch stories are not new to the Cheahlis. Rock paintings of sasq'ets have been found in caves going back thousands of years.

"The way my grandfather described it, sasq'ets travelled right from the Oregon coast to the Interior," he said. "We only live on his trail."

From rumour to research

The fact that First Nations all over North America have names, stories and mythologies regarding bigfoot or sasquatch is certainly not evidence that the creature exists, but does speak to something universal.

The creature has a spiritual quality for the Chehalis--the spiritual and physical are closely connected in First Nations beliefs. And despite the fact that most people dismiss the sasquatch as quickly as one might stories of UFO abduction, there are real and serious scientists that give credence to the possiblity the creature exists.

"I think the evidence speaks very compellingly that there is some unrecognized species of primate," Meldrum told the Times in a recent interview.

And while Meldrum has faced colleagues that don't take his interest in the subject seriously -- most biologists and anthropologists think the sasquatch doesn't exist -- he's not alone.

None other than legendary primatologists Jane Goodall and George Schaller have suggested the creature could exist.

Schaller, an American biologist who led the way with Mountain gorilla research made famous by Dian Fossey, wrote the foreword to Meldrum's 2006 book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.

In it he said "Large unrecognized creatures may still roam remote forests," and "The many sasquatch tracks need to be explained."

The 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film is the most famous piece of footage purporting to be of the sasquatch--footage laughed off as a hoax by critics.

For years people have tried to prove or disprove the authenticity of the film based on many factors, including the height of the creature. But for Green, who is not a scientist, the most compelling case for the film's authenticity is what is known in anthropology as the intermembral (IM) index.

Basically, the IM index is a ratio comparing forelimbs to hind limbs. Humans have an IM index around 70, all other existing higher primates have indexes over 100.

"This thing is in the 80s," Green told the Times. "It cannot be a man in a suit. . . . If you've got something with an intermembral index that does not belong to any known animal you've got something new."

But IM index aside, it is the abundance of plaster casts of supposed sasquatch footprints that makes for the most compelling evidence, according to Meldrum.

"There are casts that are obviously fake because the anatomy is not there," he said. "But there are others that are so spontaneous and so dynamic."

Specifically, Meldrum's interest in sasquatch was piqued when he saw a particular set of casts with so much variation it seemed impossible to have been faked.

"They were very dynamic and showed signs of animation--signs of a living foot," he said. "Movement of the toes and curling and flexing and splaying and dragouts and slippage. All the kinds of things that you would expect if it was a real thing."

And the fact that no one has ever found a bone or a carcass is not surprising or unreasonable to Meldrum.

If it weren't for the actions of porcupines hiding bits of animal parts in caves, scientists would likely never have found the few teeth and jaws of australopithecus from hundreds of thousands of years ago.

"If it does exist, there are extremely low numbers in the environment so death is going to be a very rare event," he said. "If they survive through infancy they are going to live half a century or more. In wet, coniferous forests in mountain habitat, usually in largely volcanic soils in the Pacific Northwest, things just don't survive."

Real or not, the the myth and mystery of the sasquatch compels interest from far and wide.

With the blessing of the Chehalis, the University of the Fraser Valley unveiled sasq'ets as the mascot for the Cascades last year.

In B.C., sightings include reports from Chilliwack Lake, the Chilliwack River Valley and all over the province.

Of course, there are also websites outlining alleged sightings of UFOs, which doesn't make then any more real.

But for Meldrum, keeping an open mind on the subject is the only truly scientific approach. He thinks that those who don't believe the sasquatch could possibly exist without any investigation whatsoever will always be skeptics.

"Even when there is a body they'll say the body was faked," Meldrum said.

© Copyright (c) Chilliwack Times

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