STONEY NAKODA – Tales of a horrid being, paranormal activity and a group of tiny land protectors are the campfire stories that have amazed and terrified the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
There was a time when such lore was only spoken within the community, which consists of three distinct bands – Chiniki, Bearspaw and Wesley, but even so, attempts at digging into the Nation's cryptic legends can often be met with hushed words – especially when it comes to the vilest creature to roam the land between Calgary and Canmore in southwestern Alberta.
Whatever it is the Stoney Nakoda see and hear in the darkness, it's something they're dead serious about.
The menace of Morley
The Bah tha in Stoney language, also known as The Howler, is a ghastly, shape-shifting being that shrieks violently at the unsuspecting community. With an ill-spirited temper and menacing presence, the Bah tha is considered the most terrifying legend on the Stoney Nakoda Nation.
“It’s something a lot of people are afraid to talk about, even Elders, and especially at night,” said Jarret Twoyoungmen, a local filmmaker.
“Ghosts, negative spirits – it’s no joke to us. We do actually take it seriously and we are actually really respectful with the dead and the other side of the world.”
As a passionate storyteller of Stoney Nakoda history, beliefs and traditions, Twoyoungmen took special interest in the mysterious Bah tha myth. He even has his own creepy experience with the hideous creature to draw from.
There are different tales about the Bah tha and how it came to be and what it looks like, which is why some believe it could be a shape-shifter that disguises itself as a half-man, half-beast entity. A man's head and torso with a horse's body and large owl type beast often come up in descriptions of its various forms.
With nasty yellow eyes glowing with malevolence, the Bah tha has been said to stalk and hide out in trees at a vantage point like a massive bird of prey waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting victims with razor sharp talons ready to shred flesh. If seen, the Bah tha’s unnatural powers are said to cause paralysis.
The sinister and loud being is commonly heard bringing a ruckus around Chiniki Lake, which is one of the most eerie areas on Stoney Nakoda due to being a hot spot for strange activity including mysterious sightings of alleged UFOs and sasquatches.
“I did actually experience Bah tha once myself and I never thought I’d actually experience that in my life,” said Twoyoungmen.
At one time, Twoyoungmen worked as a nighttime security guard and became used to being alone in the dark, but had never experienced anything unusual on the job.
This was at a time when he lived next to his father’s home near Chiniki Lake.
Some believe a burial ground could be in the area, but it’s uncertain if it’s occupied by Indigenous people, European settlers, or perhaps, Chinese railway workers.
After Twoyoungmen’s dad built the house near the infamous lake, the strange screaming began and the Bah tha legend came to be, his uncles told him.
“It’s like a hound from hell, man. I can’t describe it,” Twoyoungmen said. “I came home from a powwow practice, it was around 11 [p.m.] so I got in and I live alone and I have a dog in my house … I opened my window and I heard some coyotes howling and I thought that was beautiful.
"About 10 minutes later, I decided to go to bed and decide to open the window in my bedroom and that coyote howling was still going on and suddenly it just went silent. I remember it being silent. So I peeked out my window and it was dead silent and then I heard the screaming. I live next door to my dad and I thought that was someone screaming or playing [around] and I start looking around at my dad’s house and then I heard the screaming coming toward my house.
"It was terrifying. It was a scream that I had never heard before, like a scream of an owl or something. It was the most terrifying screaming I had ever heard, like, crazy, man. So I got spooked. I shut the window and I grabbed my dog and just huddled under the window and just turned all the lights off, like, I do not want to see what that thing is at all. In my head I was imagining this woman with black eyes and screaming around everywhere.”
Much like the disparity of the Bah tha’s appearance, the same can be said of how it came to be.
One corroborating piece is a Stoney Nakoda man who passed away is centred around the myth.
In one story, a cruel old man used to cause havoc around the community. People say his mind was corrupted by devils. When he died, his foul spirit continued to terrorize the Stoney people as the immortal Bah tha.
Another version of how the Bah tha came to be is of a man who went missing in the woods while looking for his horses near Chiniki Lake. People heard the lost man yelling for help as he tried to escape the maze of trees and bush, but was never seen again – at least not as a human.
It’s thought that his aimless soul wonders the area and screams out in a vain attempt at being saved.
“Everyone has different versions of it and it’s really hard to find the meaning,” said Twoyoungmen.
As a curious filmmaker, Twoyoungmen envisioned and created a short horror film on the Stoney Nakoda legend about a decade ago. It’s uploaded to the YouTube channel Jarret Twoyoungmen and called Chapter 1 The butterfly Girl, and Chapter 2 The [REC].
While filming, a strange occurrence at night played out like a horror story within a horror story.
The freaky moment started when Twoyoungmen’s cousin began screaming.
Running over to the confused crew, the shaken up woman said she watched something down on all fours crawling on the ground toward her.
The film crew left the area, which is home to mountain lions and grizzly bears, but returned shortly after at the recommendation of Twoyoungmen’s uncle to call out his cousin’s name to calm her soul and have it return to her body, in case it jumped out as she screamed.
“We have our own stories, we have our own thing, but nobody actually hears about them,” said Twoyoungmen. “Even non-native people, it’s like they don’t care about our ghost stories, they only care about theirs. I’m like 'we have our own ghost stories too'. Even the kids really want this and we should tell ghost stories about who we are and what we are. That’s why I would like to tell the stories of these things around to non-native people so they can hear about us and we do have our own thing and our own beliefs.”
The Little People
Wicha sta juthin min in Stoney language, also known as The Little People, are the opposite of the menacing Bah tha and are believed to be a helpful group to Stoney Nakoda people throughout time with cooking and ceremonies.
Standing at a mere one-foot tall and dressed in traditional Indigenous regalia, The Little People are the mighty protectors of the land long before the first Indigenous peoples of the area arrived. To this day, sightings of the elusive and benevolent Wicha sta juthin min are seen across the Nation, especially in the Morley townsite near the schools.
“So growing up, people think they’re trolls or some sort of leprechauns, but our Elders do believe that they’re strong, spiritual beings like the sasquatch that protects the community from any harm or any danger,” said Daxter Amos, creative director of Fright House Morley.
“We strongly believe that there are certain things in the land that really help maintain what the beauty is about in Canada. I think all First Nations and the communities have certain stories because I think that Aboriginal people are spiritually connected with Earth.”
As time passes and there are fewer Elders to pass on the Stoney Nakoda’s stories, Amos strongly believes in picking the reins and making sure the younger generations get to know them.
As a mega fan of the Halloween season, Amos took special interest in the Nation’s legends that could be interpreted as supernatural, paranormal and spiritual.
Stories of The Little People have popped up throughout Amos’ life, including from custodians at the high school who swear during after hours they catch glimpses of very tiny people running across the hallway before disappearing. Amos’ mother would also tell tales of finding miniature ladders in the woods while she was berry-picking, but would be gone upon returning with others. She strongly believes it could have been a tool of The Little People.
“I think that it is common for First Nations across Canada to have Little People, like the sasquatches, the same thing that they’re well respected spiritual beings,” Amos said.
“A lot of these legend stories are subtle now, but I think it’s very important to be retold especially around these type of seasons for the teenagers and kids … it’s respecting the past as well,” Amos said. “We don’t know if it exists or not or something that became a myth, but I truly believe in that there are other places and sides than life itself.”
The empty house with spirits
While putting together Fright House Morley every season, Amos has experienced things that go bump in the night.
The haunted house attraction, which is an actual abandoned house on the Amos family property near the Stoney Nakoda casino, is believed to harbour something of paranormal nature.
“I do believe that these ghosts or spirits, whatever you want to call them, exist because I have my own encounters and experiences of hearing stuff under the stairs or footsteps on the hallways,” said Amos.
"I think that a dead soul can really live and roam because some people have addiction issues and you see their spirit isn’t with them."
Each year, Amos and a group of volunteers create new props and mazes inside the fright house, which has an upstairs and basement portion for guests to walk through.
Amos said that as Halloween season approaches, he believes the spirits become more active. He's been startled by sudden and repeated banging while working late hours on the fright house. In the basement, he's been chilled to the bone to hear unexplained footsteps thumping overhead only to head upstairs and find an empty room.
Amos said that's usually when it's time to call it a night.
First Nations strongly believe in life after death, but Amos thinks these types of stories are fading with time.
"The Stoney are Sioux people; we have similar stories of paranormal activities in houses that were abandoned that spirits linger in their homes," Amos said.
“I have this haunted house because I respect the story of people from our community telling stories of haunted houses. I think that it’s a chance to have these stories come to life and to bring that illusion so that these stories will be around for many years and people will want to come see and feel that excitement, that fear."
This year's haunted house's theme is The Black Out. Guests are given glow sticks in the pitch dark and have to find their way out. The final three days are Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 29 to 31).
For more information and directions, visit the Facebook page Fright House Morley.