It was a beautiful, calm evening in early summer 2001 when Doug Neasloss and four companions pulled their boat up to a sandy beach in Kitasu Bay, an ancient site where members of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation have been harvesting herring and halibut for thousands of years. The bay lay on the ocean side of Swindle Island, opposite Klemtu, a village on British Columbia’s pine-forested inside passage. They got a big driftwood bonfire going, a warm light against the blackness of the forest and sky, where the Milky Way glittered like a dusting of powdered sugar.
As they told stories and laughed around the fire, Neasloss noticed something—half of a face, partly hidden behind a large tree up the beach—illuminated by the flickering light. He stared at it, trying to understand what he was looking at. His younger brother stopped talking to him and followed Neasloss’s gaze. The others turned and looked too, toward the figure that now appeared to be crouching at the treeline, locking eyes with them. At that moment, the sasquatch stood up. “It was huge, at least 7 feet tall. The footprints were about 15 inches long,” Neasloss remembers. The creature slowly backed into the forest, out of the firelight, and disappeared.
Neasloss, who was Canada’s first licensed Indigenous bear guide and is now the Kitasoo/Xai’xais’s elected chief councilor and resource stewardship director, has had other encounters with sasquatches. The first one, though, stands out. “I’ve had humpback whales come right up under my kayak,” he tells Mental Floss. “But this was the scariest moment of my life.”
For more than half a century, Klemtu (population 350) has been known to outsiders as a reliable locale for seeing sasquatches. To the Kitasoo/Xai’xais, the hairy, human-like creatures have always been there, living in the dense forests and remote areas across the nation’s traditional territory. They’re a part of the community, and part of the stories the Kitasoo/Xai’xais elders tell to impart their traditions and history, to pass on knowledge to younger generations and to share with the larger community. Some stories are meant to teach lessons about respecting elders, ancestors, and the environment.
But some recount actual events that have become ingrained in the culture over decades or centuries; most of the sasquatch encounters fall into that category. In Smalgyax, the Kitasoo language, the creatures are called puk’wis or ba’gwis—words that also describe their ape-like appearance. Elders warn against going to certain places called wilu’bu’kwis, “where there are sasquatches.” Many people know the stories, even if they don’t talk about them much. “They were seen more often when people would travel and harvest food or material resources,” says Vernon Brown, the Kitasoo/Xai’xais resource stewardship manager in Klemtu.
Most Western scientists do not believe that sasquatches exist, in part because no bones, hair samples, or other conclusive biological evidence has been found. But Neasloss points out that bears are quite common, and despite his many years as a wilderness guide, he has never found a bear skeleton in the woods, either. All the evidence the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people need is in the stories; he no longer wastes time trying to prove sasquatches’ existence. “I know they’re out there,” he says.
“It’s a real living creature to a lot of the elders here,” Brown tells Mental Floss. “We’re an oral culture; people don’t waste time creating false stories. People don’t have any reason to lie.”