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Friday, August 30, 2019

Visiting the Nisga'a Nation

Hi Blog!

On Tuesday, August 27, 2019, we left rainy Meziadin Lake behind. Our next stop was Terrace, BC. One of the things we most wanted to do while in Terrace was visit the Nisga'a Nation. The Nisga’a are an indigenous people of Canada. They reside in the Nass River valley of northwestern British Columbia. The name Nisga'a is from Tongass Tlingit, where it means "people of the Nass River". The Nisga'a Highway leads from Terrace all the way to the coast, where it passes four Nisga'a villages.

Our first stop was along the shores of Kitsumkalum Lake. Just past the viewpoint sits the tiny community of Rosswood which was off the BC electric grid until 1999 and only received phone service in 2001. Rosswood has a long history dating back to when a young pioneer named Annie Ross ran a post office for the bustling community of 300 in 1909.  The pioneer settlement was built on Kitsumkalum territory at the north end of Kitsumkalum Lake.

We crossed the border into the Nisga'a Nation as we approach Lava Lake.

Thousands of years ago, a glacier moved through this valley, gouging the depression that holds New Lake. Just 250 years ago a volcanic eruption caused molten lava to flow west down a creek bed to the north, damming the stream flowing from this lake, raising the level of water by 30 meters, enlarging the lake, which is now known as Lava Lake.

From the shore of Lava Lake, we drove over to Crater Creek. We hiked along a 600 meter trail to an overlook.

From our vantage point, all we could see was lava. The source of the eruption was almost 4 kilometers up the valley. The amount of lava pumped out covered an area six miles long and two miles wide. The lava was over 40 feet deep in some areas. That's a lot of rock!

The lava flows changed the course of several rivers and steams. Most of the time, the Tseax River flows under the lava. However, in times of high water, like we had with the last week of rain, it can flow over the land and through the forest.  This was a particularly special event, because the water was such a brilliant glacial powder-blue:

The next stop on our tour took us to Beaupre Falls. A short hike took us to a viewing platform where we could look down on the falls.

The valleys in the coast forest are full of extremely tall trees. Loggers were the first white settlers in this area. The remnants of their work can still be found today.

Vetter Creek flows over a small lava shelf before is disappears under the lava, trapping fish. The steelhead, confined to this short stream, develop snake-like bodies with large heads. Locals call them "Phantom Fish." We tried to spot some in the shallow pools, but with the recent rains, the stream was too cloudy to spot them.

We did stop at the Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. However, there were no park rangers on duty. The Visitor's Center has interpretive displays about the Nisga'a people, culture and history. Over 2000 Nisga'a lost their lives during the eruption, as two villages were buried during the event.

We made a quick stop in Gitlaxt'aamiks for gas and snacks before heading over to the location of the tree cast.  It is one of four villages that can be found in the Nass Valley, and we visited all of them on this day.

During the eruption, moten lava solidified around trees which created hollow tubes after the tree burned.  You can see the dark, round hole in the photo below, which is the near end of the tree cast:

The village of Gitwinsihlkw, the second of the four villages we visited, is famous for its old suspension bridge. For years, the village was accessible only by this bridge.

For most of the day, we had the sites along the Nisga'a Highway all to ourselves. That was until we tried to get a photo in the middle of the bridge -- where we were joined by three other couples. As we tried to take our selfie, they bounced the bridge so much, all we got were blurry photos. Here's the one shot we got without company.

After our hike on the swaying bridge, we drove over to the third village of Laxgalts'ap to tour the Nisga'a Museum. The museum houses cultural treasures acquired in the 19th century.

Many Nisga’a possessions were mistaken as idols and destroyed by Christian missionaries who established themselves along the Nass River. Others were given away or sold to private individuals or museum collectors. The treasures in the Ancestors’ Collection were returned to the Nass Valley from museums in Ottawa and Victoria as part of the Nisga’a Treaty.

The final part of our drive took us down the Nass River to where it empties into Nass Bay and joins Observation Inlet, on its way through the Portland Inlet to the Pacific Ocean.

The Village of Gingolx, the fourth and last we visited, sits at the Mouth of Nass, making it the seafood capital of the the Nass Valley. The villagers fish for each of the types of salmon, crab, halibut, snapper and shellfish. We had the pleasure of having dinner at U Seafood U Eat It! During dinner, Charlie, a local elder, told tall tales, related the history of the name of the village, Gingolx, drummed, sang and danced. It was an amazing experience.

Totem poles, or pts'aan, are a significant part of Nisga’a culture and identity. Totems display family crests, commemorate histories, people and events, and mark territory. Totem poles are expensive to commission because only skilled artisans can create them.  When totems are raised, celebrations ensue. Chiefs tell traditional stories, hold a feast and thank the carver.

This totem pole sits next to the Gingolx Young Center:

We were lucky to be at the right place at the right time, as one local resident was coming home from work.  He invited us in to take a peek inside. The large open event area was surrounded by amazing local folk art. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn't good enough for photos.

After dinner, we drove out Fisherman's Road. What's not to love about an old wooden bridge?

At the end of Fisherman's Road is the small harbor which protects the local fishing fleet.

We drove over 110 miles before reaching the end of the road. At this point, we were closer to Hyder, Alaska than our campground in Terrace, B.C.! The 2.5 hour return trip was uneventful. We just took in the beautiful scenery of Nass Valley.

To the Nisga'a who made us fell so welcome we say T'ooyaksiy niin! Thank you! We had a wonderful day.

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