haašiłsa name came from 20 suggestions and two rounds of voting 5o years ago

Port Alberni, BC

“Your paper needs a name” was spread across the top of the first Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper in big bold letters on January 24, 1974. The idea of the newspaper was conceived by the West Coast District Council of Indian Chiefs in the hope of improving communication between the First Nations governments and the council, reads the front-page story, an idea that has now spanned 50 years.

Over the next couple of months 20 name suggestions were submitted by mail to the council. At a council meeting on March 8th, 1974 ballots were handed out to the chiefs and meeting attendees to vote. After the first vote three names were so close a second round of ballots was needed.

Ha-Shilth-Sa, or haašiłsa meaning interesting news, was submitted by Eugene Amos of Ehattesaht and Cecil Mack of Toquaht. The runners up were Nay-Ye-Ee, meaning echo, submitted by Arlene Paul and Roy Haiyupis of Ahousaht, and O’Yukah Miss, meaning news, submitted by Simon Lucas of Hesquiaht and Felix Michael of Nuchatlaht. Ha-Shilth-Sa won.

Charlie Thompson, who was then Nitinaht’s band manager, remembers that “the overall consensus was because Ha-Shilth-Sa was news from Port Renfrew to Kyuquot, so it was only natural that we chose Ha-Shilth-Sa”.

The first paper to don the new name was Vol. 1, No. 3, March 11, 1974, with the story of how the name came to be and a request for the community to now send in art for a new masthead.

With submissions from several artists, a design from well-known Ḥaa’yuups of Hupacasath was chosen, displaying hay-ee-hik, the lightening snake. The logo design came from Ḥaa’yuups pondering what the logo would be used for: communicating.

“I thought about the various forms of communication between ourselves and the spiritual realm and the hay-ee-hik or lightening serpent came to mind, so I decided to do a lightening serpent,” he said.

Ḥaa’yuups was inspired by history, thinking of his ancestors and the land they lived on. He told a story of the four great spirit chiefs and the serpents associated with them.

“There’s under sea chief who has a sea serpent, the land chief has a land serpent, and you can see him in designs,” explained Ḥaa’yuups. “He has feet and claws.”

“The lightening serpent is often shown in a zig zag or squiggly form representing lightening, and so I decided to do that to kind of make it a little bit animated,” he continued. “A lot of old material is painted black and red, so I chose to use black and red as design colors.”

In the Oct. 4, 1974 issue, under the front page headline “Like our masthead?” the story reads, “The legends say the sea serpent travelled with the Thunderbird, sometimes on the leading edge of his wings, sometimes wrapped about him like a belt, sometimes carried by the Thunderbird in his claws or wrapped around his claws.”

But Ḥaa’yuups says that the original story wrote it incorrectly. His design wasn’t a sea serpent, but a lightening snake.

“They are two totally different things. Hay-ee-hik is a lightening serpent,” he said.  

Ḥaa’yuups hoped Ha-Shilth-Sa would be an expedient form of communication and thought the most apt design would be the lightening serpent.

After 50 years, the lightening serpent has become a recognizable image to the community as a symbol for interesting news.

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