Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a to Telkwa

Whew! I almost didn’t get that out! The first part of the title means: Nisga’a Memorial Lava Beds – but you probably knew that.
We have been learning all about totem poles this week. This first pic is of a long house at Totem Bight Historical Park in Ketchikan. A “bight” is a curved cutout on the coast that has a bay and a sandy beach. It looks like a giant took a big bite out of the land. The early natives liked those areas because they are somewhat protected from the weather. They used to build these long houses that were multi-family dwellings. Inside, it is one big room with multiple levels around the sides. The higher your status in the clan, the more privacy you got (like a screen or panel that divided your living area from the others). The hole at the bottom of the middle totem is the entryway. There is also one on the side.

Poor planning makes for a couple rough days. When we voted ourselves off the Prince of Wales Island, we didn’t check on the other ferry schedule. So, we had to take a night ride (9pm to 3am) from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert, BC. We thought we’d better get some sleep and thought a room would give us a better chance than the solarium lounge chair. I’m not so sure it did. I don’t think I slept at all. Don might have gotten a little. We ended up driving for a couple hours and then pulling over for a nap. We headed east on Hwy 16, back to the Terrace area. Then we turned north on Hwy 113 to go see the Lava Beds. This guy gave us directions from the side of the road – yup, we’re back in BC, where we see the most bears 🙂 He was talking with his mouth full of berries though.

They know, now, that the volcano errupted in 1775. A spanish ship was anchored near the Portland Inlet and he recorded it in his journal. The record says when he saw, the next morning, that the water was black and all the dead fish, he pulled up anchor and left. There were about 6,000 people living in the area at the time. About 2,000 of them died from the erruption. They were either killed by the lava itself or were hit by floating debris in the rivers as they tried to escape. This area is preserved as a memorial to those who died. The sign asks visitors “not to remove any lava because it is the headstone of their ancestor”. The lava flow drastically changed the terrain, lakes and rivers in the area. There are places that look like wastelands, with nothing but moss covered lava. In other places, near the streams, it is as lush as a rain forest. As trees die they decay and build up the soil on top of the lava. Water that runs over the lava beds are crystal clear. This is a pic of Vetter Creek Falls, a short walk from the roadside parking area.

We checked out a few of the First Nation villages in this area. The one below is in the town of New Aiyansh. The town got moved after the volcano destroyed the first one. Paintings on the front of the long house is as common as the totems. They use the same symbols for painting as carving. It looks like they mostly use the long houses for government administration and community gatherings now.
We went out to this village to see the fish wheel on the Nass River. We couldn’t get very close to it but we could see that it was in operation. The fish wheel captures the fish and holds them live. I’m not sure if they just use the fish to feed the community or if they also harvest the eggs. This town sign has symbols of all four clans in the area: Raven, Bear, Whale and Wolf They each have a specific meaning in their stories. I can’t remember them all. The whale is an orca and represents food or feeding the people. The raven represents the creator. He created the sun and people and he melted the ice to end the ice age. I don’t know what a lizard represents but a frog is lucky. Sometimes they’ll put a frog on a totem at the front of the house to keep it from tipping over.

The next pic shows a girl riding an orca because that represents the story. The girl was sitting on the beach one day and the whale came up to her and said, “If you go with me, I will make sure your family is always fed.” So she rode off with him.
Totems were used for different purposes. Some totems are reminders for telling important stories. Some are memorial totems, used to honor a dead person (usually only one carving at the top of the pole and very little, if anything, carved below it). The clans respected each other. They had a complex social structure. People could only marry someone from a different clan.

We are in Telkwa tonight. All the rivers around here are world class steelhead fisheries. Ft Telkwa is on the Bulkley River. It has the nicest showers I have ever used in an RV park! (very roomy, private, unmetered, hot water, piped-in music – talk about luxury!)
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