13 Moons of the Saanich Year

Seasonal rounds refers to the the WSANEC peoples movement from one resource gathering area to another, this movement is cyclical following the cycles of the moon. In the spring, summer and fall the people would be moving throughout their territory collecting and processing different resources while in the winter they would gather in their winter villages. The seasonal harvesting activities depended on abundance, if there was a great abundance of a resource they would stay longer and if there was insufficient resources they would move on to the next area.

Here is a link to a unit on The Saanich Year put together by SD 63

SSIS,ET – The Elder Moon (December)


The Elder’s hair holds and shields the elderly people who share the teachings, the beliefs, the history and the culture with the children who are gathered in the warmth of the firelight.

The winter moon, with short days and stormy weather, the people spent most of their time indoors. Travel on the ocean was unpredictable and potentially dangerous.Dried fish and berries stored from the previous year sustained the people during this time.” People ventured out to gather fuel and to hunt the overwintering ducks and geese, to fish for code and grilse (young salmon), and to collect clams and other shellfish”. (pg.25) Time indoors was spent making netting (from nettle stems), carving canoes as well as making baskets for the upcoming harvesting seasons. Children spent the short days listening to stories told to them by the elders about the right way to live. During this time spiritual and cultural activities took place in the longhouses.

NINENE – Moon of the Child ( January)

The face of the young man represents youth, a new beginning, the rebirth of the animal world, and the new edible shoots. This is the Saanich New Year. The moon’s yellow hair is the returning light to the world.

The days are getting longer and the world starts its rebirth, this is the beginning of the Saanich year. The days are still cold and stormy but there are a few sunny days. Families begin to assemble their reef nets for the coming fishing season. They still relied mostly on their stored food but would begin to venture out, fishing for spring (chinook) salmon, halibut and seals. This is the season when fawns were born, so the people stopped hunting doe’s at this time. Story-telling and ceremonial dances continued long into the night.

WEXES – Moon of the Frog (February)

The frog on the face of the moon represents DOLUANW – The keeper of the sacred season

It is during this moon that the frogs wake up and start to sing at night, announcing the coming of spring. The earth is beginning to warm up, people are putting their canoes back into the water and travelling longer distances. They fish for cod, gilse, Spring Salmon, halibut and especially herring. They harvested herring roe by placing cedar boughs in the water where the herring spawned, the earliest runs of spawning herring were in Fulford Harbour off of Saltspring Island. While collecting herring row the people would also catch ducks, putting duck nets in the narrow passages between islands. Potential reef net sights were surveyed as the nets were beign repaired and assembled. The winter ceremonials dances were coming to an end as people began to spend more time outside.

PEXSISEN – Moon of Opening Hands, Blossoming Out Moon (March – April)

All plants and trees are opening up their hands again and the moon meets their welcome

Blossoms and leaves begin to open. The days are getting longer, there is more sun which is necessary to dry the food being harvested. People used floating nets to hunt and preserve the Brant Geese (XELXELJ) in their feeding grounds. Mussels, clams and oysters were also harvested. Cedar trees were felled and the women stripped the bark for weaving clothing and mats. A long time ago people had small, wooly dogs and this was the time of the year when they began to shed. The women would collect and spin their fur for blankets.

SXANEL – Bullhead Moon (April)

This moon represents the visibility of SXÁNEL or what westerners call Orion’s Belt. The moon’s hair represents a strong wind that comes at this time and the swallows that arrive with the wind.

During this moon big bullheads (large-headed bottom fish) appear on the shore and a big wind arrives. People spent most of their time on the water. The older women would spear the bullheads (SKA) from under the rocks. This was also the time to harvest seaweed. People stopped fishing for halibut because they spawned during this moon but they could snare almost full grown grouse in the woods. Around this time young shoots of horsetail, cow-parsnip, salmonberry, and thimbleberry were harvested and eaten. They provided the people with vitamin C and were welcomed as fresh greens.

PENAWEN – Moon of the Camas Harvest (May)

This moon is the moon of the camas harvest. It is time to dig KLO,EL (camas). The camas bulb illustration is shown on the cheek of the moon and in the palm of his hand. The blue plant with the bulb underneath the ground is the whole camas plant.

People traveled all over their territory to dig camas bulbs or “wild carrots” and other root vegetables. Seagulls nested in the camas grounds on many of the islands so the people would gather fresh egg at this time as well. Purple and green sea urchins were also gathered to eat. During this moon people would fish for cod, Spring Salmon, grilse and deep water halibut.

CENTEKI – Sockeye Moon (May -June)

This moon is the same colour as the pale grey sockeye salmon. The sockeye returns during this moon. The Salish art design represents the tide running swiftly through the reef net which is tied to the two canoes (SXELSCET).

The sockeye salmon returned during this moon. The reef nets that the people had been working on were put into place and a ceremony was held when the first salmon was caught. This is also when you will hear the Sawnson Thrushes singing. Strawberries, salmonberries and other berries are beginning to ripen. It is said that it is the song of the Thrush that puts the color into the salmonberries. The WSANEC people were able to catch sockeye about a month before other First Nations because they had access to the straits, during this month the WSANEC people traded salmon with other nations.

CENHENEN – Humpback Salmon Return to the Earth (June -July)

The illustration is half salmon and half human. The darts show the tidal waters that are used to catch salmon. The child carrying the salmon represents the first salmon ceremony in honour of the salmon. Saanich People humble themselves to the salmon.

During this time the grass and forests are dry and fire is a danger. People travelled far, both around their own and others territory to fish for humpback salmon. Great feasts where the WSANEC people shared their harvest with neighbours and relatives from other villages were held where ‘people traded, courted and exchanged ideas and informaiton” (27). Men hunted elk and deer while women collected blackberries, strawberries, red huckleberries and wild gooseberries.

CENTAWEN – Coho Salmon Return to the Earth (August)

The illustration shows the face of the Coho and the human together. The face of the Coho/human is to remind the Saanich Peoples that the salmon were human at one time. The swift running tide picture illustrates where the salmon travel. The camp is the home away from permanent home for the Saanich Peoples.

The Coho return to their streams as the rains help to fill the creeks and rivers. People fished for lingcod and tomcod. The weather is beginning to cool and deer hunting season begins. Indian Celery seed is harvested and stored, it has medicinal and ceremonial uses as well as for flavoring fish and meat. This is prime time for Salal berries, saskatoon berries, thimbleberries, blackcaps, stink currants and other fruits. These berries would dried in cakes for winter use and eaten fresh. 

CENQOLEW  – Dog Salmon Return to the Earth (September)

The colours are Dog Salmon (ochre red). The men are returning the bones of the salmon to the sea, with thanks, in the belief that the bones will come to life and replenish the salmon stocks. The man raises his oar to show honour and respect to our relative, the salmon, who helps us survive.

Dog (chum) salmon return to the rivers to spawn as the windy, rainy weather begins. Seals and Sea Lions are hunted on the sea and deer and grouse are hunted on land. Cod fishing is at its peak. The people smoke the fish they have caught to preserve them for winter. Wild crabapples and hazelnuts would have been picked at this time. Root vegetable like silverweed and springbank clover were dug. Women gathered clams, made blankets and rush mats from tule and cattail. They began to stockpile wood for the winter months.

PEKELANEW – Moon that Turns the Leaves White/Faded (October)

This is the moon of the turning white season (frost). This moon brings the first frost. The leaves lose their colours and turn pale. Deer hunting is the activity during this moon. The earth is cooling down and the people turn their efforts to hunting

This moon represents the end of the harvest season. The leaves are beginning to fall to the ground as the nights become longer and cooler. People split logs for fuel, canoes and building materials. They hunted seals and sea lions in the San Juan Islands and prepared for elk hunting season. The very last of the berries and fruits are harvested.

WESELANEW – Moon of the Shaker Leaves (October – November)

The leaves are ready to fall. The wind comes. Turbulence is felt in the waters and the skies. The earth is cooling down.

People keep close to their winter villages during this month as the winter weather begins. Most of the harvested food had been preserved and stored away. People only fished close to home. After the first snowfall the people would hunt elk in the mountains as they were easier to track. Winter gatherings began at this time.

SJELCASEN – Moon of Putting your Paddle Away in the Bush (November – December)

This moon is the season of strong winds. The weather is unpredictable, making it unsafe to travel. It is time to put the big sea canoes and paddles away. It is time to honour the paddle for carrying one safely all season long. Snow is possible at this time of year. The long house activities start.

The winter months, people stayed home sheltered form the winter storms. Sometimes they would venture out at low tide to dig clams. All the materials that had been stored during the months of harvest are brought out and worked. The women wove mat, capes and baskets while the men made their fishing nets, boxes, tools and fishing gear. The people began to eat the food they had stored during the harvest season. Winter ceremonies began and the children once again got to listen to stories from their elders.

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