In the year 2001 our son Patrick was involved in the Katimavik program. As a result he spent about 3 to 4 months in 3 different parts of Canada. One was Newfoundland, one was Quebec, and the last was British Columbia. The way it operated was that he was part of a group of young people who worked usually for a non-profit company of some sort living together in a house where they lived communally with minimal adult supervision, but strict rules, and then a couple of weeks or so with a local family. This was repeated in each of the 3 towns. Specifically, he stayed in St. John’s Newfoundland, a small town in Quebec not far from Montreal, and New Hazelton in northern British Columbia.
One day Pat phoned up Chris and I and said we should come up to see him and beautiful northern B.C. I had never thought about going to northern BC, but it did not take long for us to agree. Being travel sluts we were soon eager to go. This trip opened us up to experiences we had never had before.
One of the first places we saw was Kispiox where they had some fine totem poles.
I must admit that one One of the things I had never considered or thought about before to any significant extent was indigenous people. It seems unbelievable now, but after 7 years of university, I had never really thought much about Canada’s indigenous people, until, in Hazelton, we visited Ksan an historical village and museum just outside of the town at the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers
‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum (‘Ksan) is located near the ancient village of Gitanmaax, at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers in the community of Hazelton, British Columbia.
As a replicated ancient village, ‘Ksan illustrates many features of a Gitxsan village from the distant past. For example, like its predecessors, ‘Ksan’s houses form a single line with each building facing the river. From this position, the large decorated house fronts and totem poles of the village are visible from the water. In conjunction with other features, such as the smoke house and food cache, ‘Ksan illustrates characteristics typical of a past Gitxsan village.
Found within Gitxsan Territory, Ksan Historical Village stands where the village of Gitanmaax has existed for centuries. It is the desire of Ksan to preserve and truthfully portray the lifestyle of the people who have always lived here.
This is not a great photo but there is an Indigenous fisherman fishing it the traditional manner on the rock to the left. For centuries and possibly millennia, Gitxsan’s have maintained communities at important canyons and junctions on the Skeena River. This location was an important fishing site and transportation hub.
On the way we saw some lovely mountains. Pat had convinced us to come here by telling us it was as beautiful as Banff and Jasper without all the people. He was not lying.
We also drove from Hazelton to Alaska only about 3 hours away. Near Hyder in Alaska we saw a glacier from above it. I will never forget that day.
Many years later when I actually started to read a little about our Indigenous people in Canada, I was surprised, very surprised to read in the history book I was reading, that this First Nation was mentioned on the very first page of their book, A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations. According to Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging, “The west coast Gitksan people maintain that the Upper Skeena River Valley, in the northwest part of the land that came to be called the Americas, is their Garden of Eden.” From my experience of this area nearly 20 years ago I can’t say that they exaggerated.
Years later I also realized that this area we visited with our son was the location of some historic cases on Aboriginal rights and titles and a modern treaty that has been a landmark precedent for relations between the Crown and Indigenous people, that I want to comment about in this blog at a later date. First I want to set the background for first contact with Europeans.
It is easy to see why Indigenous people loved the land and maintained a strong connection to it. This glacier was right beside the highway. I have Pat to thank for opening my eyes. I am grateful.