For Sasquatch Believers There's No Turning Back
By D. Parvaz

September 28, 1999 -- VANCOUVER, B.C. -- For those of you who thought Sasquatch fever ended with "Harry and the Hendersons" -- well, you're wrong. There's still a great deal of interest in finding one of those creatures and making the myth a reality.

The third annual International Sasquatch Symposium that ends today -- or rather just the fact that there is such an event, let alone that it's annual, international and five days long -- may convince you.

[Photo: John Kirk, president of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club in Burnaby, holds a cast of a Bigfoot imprint.]

And as long as the creature's existence remains an unanswered question, there are those willing to take a shot at answering it.

Once you stop rolling your eyes at what might initially appear to be an auditorium filled with nuts, some of the stuff actually starts to make sense. So let's start asking some questions, like what, exactly, is a Sasquatch and who the heck are these 200-or-so people who believe it exists?

The Myth:

The Sasquatch has been part of the mythology of just about every culture. Among them: Yeti in Tibet, Yowie Man in Australia and, of course, the Northwest's Sasquatch.

Joseph Page, a First Nations elder and storyteller from Mission, B.C., says "Sasquatch" is the Chehalis band's word for "Crazy Man of the Forest." The Chehalis call the Sasquatch crazy because of his solitary ways, not because they think there's a lunatic roaming the woods. In fact, they believe the creatures are somewhat spiritual and help tribal members when necessary.

In a dedication ceremony, Page gave some background. "It was the Sasquatch that taught our people how to build our long house," he says. He follows his talk with a prayer that refers to the Sasquatch as "our brother," and asks for his wisdom.

Everyone in the room stands during the prayer, apparently needing all the help they can get.

The Believers:

Pity the plight of the Sasquatch hunter. People tend to think he's crazy because, well, he has no proof that the creature he's devoted his life to discovering even exists.

The flimsy collection of "evidence" -- shaky, grainy footage, unidentifiable hair samples, gnarled casts of big footprints -- is inconclusive.

In quieter moments, the believer admits this to himself. And yet he can't help himself. He's hooked.

When considering all the eyewitness testimony and the possibility that he's been consistently lied to, Sasquatch investigator Thomas Steenburg shakes his head and says, "Stop the planet, I want to get off."

Steenburg, of Calgary, Alberta, even seems a little depressed when he realizes he's spent 20 years of his life trying to find a Sasquatch. "Twenty years . . . goes by like that," he says, snapping his fingers.

While Steenburg is one of the more outspoken characters at the symposium, the most colorful personality is Rene Dahinden, who in his absence, is referred to as "The Rene Factor."

Dahinden is the guy everyone in the Sasquatch community knows -- for a couple of reasons.

First off, he's been on the creature's trail since 1956, three years after he moved to Canada from Switzerland.

Then there's the matter of visibility -- Dahinden is everywhere. He's appeared in two Kokanee beer TV commercials. Plus, the 69-year-old has a voice that can be heard in all four corners of the symposium, denouncing findings and investigations in his thick Euro-accent.

"We saw enough fake films. You just take one look, you dig around a little and bingo," he says. And then came what Dahinden refers to as "that damn film" -- a k a the Patterson film.

Shot in 1967 on 16 mm color film -- 24 feet, 60 seconds, 900 frames, each and everyone of them under copyright -- the film shows what looks like a cross between a female human and a gorilla (affectionately dubbed "Patty" by Sasquatch enthusiasts) crossing a clearing in Bluff Creek, Calif.

How familiar this crowd is with the film becomes evident when John Kirk, president of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club -- -- is spotted pointing out the significance of frame 352 to a timid radio reporter in his fast-clipped English accent.

Kirk is excited about the film, but Dahinden seems defeated by it.

"I set out to prove that the film is fake, because that was the only thing that I could think you could prove," says Dahinden of the footage shot by Roger Patterson, a rodeo cowboy, and Robert Gimlin, a cattleman.

"That's what I've done for the last 30 years -- investigate this damn film. . . . But this damn film, we can't crack. People say it's a guy in a fur suit. I don't want to listen to one more idiot. They know nothing about nothing."

He says what just about everyone else does: that people in the scientific community tend to stay away from the Sasquatch investigation because they fear what it will do to their credibility.

"So they are not getting involved . . . but they say 'bring us a body.' If we have the body of the Sasquatch, we don't need you (bleeps) to tell us we have one!"

Them Skeptics And Them Bones:

So the contentious question of Sasquatch's existence remains.

Bigfoot believers hate to deal with that question because, really, there's just no getting around it.

They've never found any remains, but to most of the folks at the symposium, that's beside the point. Take black bears, for example.

The wildlife branch of the provincial Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks says there are 120,000 to 160,000 black bears in British Columbia.

"The mortality rate will conservatively be, say, at 10 percent," says Dahinden, leaving us with about 14,000 dead black bears each year. "One would think that you could . . . step out 10 feet in the bush and fall over one of these black bears. . . . You know damn well that this isn't the case."

So OK, there aren't any bones because the Sasquatch is a rare animal and its bones either get buried by dense foliage and/or snow, or maybe it just goes to extremely remote places to die.

Or maybe the Sasquatch is an alien from another planet, a "Hairy Angel," a "Star Person."

This, of course, refers to the panel discussion on the "Bigfoot/UFO Connection."

At the risk of sounding dismissive -- oh, what the heck -- trying to follow the arguments by paranormal supporters John Cotton and Jack "Kewaunee" Lapseritis is like trying to discuss NAFTA with the Cheshire Cat.

Heavy-handed with vague references to quantum physics and metaphysics, the two hold that Sasquatch is an extraterrestrial being, transported by aliens to Earth. They -- the Sasquatch -- are here to give indigenous people guidance on herbal medicine and to teach us about the environment.

The paranormalists are not popular among the more zoologically minded Sasquatch investigators, but symposium organizer Steven Harvey says he feels obliged to include them in the event. "By my estimate . . . they are 25 percent of the (Sasquatch) people, and 25 percent is something I can't ignore," he says.

The UFO people aren't the only ones who get attacked. When Chad Deetken, a member of the Sasquatch Society and a crop-circle specialist, played his copy of "The Bigfoot Recordings," narrated by Jonathan Frakes of TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Dahinden piped up again.

Before moving on, Deetken responded: "I know better than to try and argue with you, Rene."

Dahinden also had a bit of an outburst when Grover Krantz, a retired professor of anthropology at Washington State University, referred to some footprint casts.

Krantz says the emotional reaction to Sasquatch theories is understandable.

"This is a little too close. This thing is close to us, close to human," says Krantz, who is tall, has a head full of thick white hair and big beard.

He adds that some of the animosity also stems from competition and jealousy.

"See, the guy who shoots the first Sasquatch gets the first prize, the big prize," he says. "After that, the scientists will descend on this, and that's that.

"There is no second prize."
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© 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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