After taking a short detour to see the Totems of Kitwanga, and several unscheduled photographic pauses along the way, the drive from Smithers to Prince Rupert was taking slightly longer than planned. Arriving at the Ksan Historical Village, and Museum, near the Hazeltons, my curiosity was immediately piqued, this seemed one detour well worth taking.
The village consists of several wooden lodges, with doors adorned with intricately carved, and colourful artwork, guarded by tall, impressive totems. The interiors of these longhouses, provide a glimpse into the culture of British Columbia’s Gitxsan Nation.
Better late than never, my patient guide was soon allowing me to explore the various lodges, with almost unhindered photographic freedom. The artistry is beautiful, and the displayed artefacts are fascinating, while recorded narratives provide evocative monologues. Spellbinding first hand accounts of the traditions, and heritage of one of Canada’s original settlers. I listened intently, while silently browsing the many traditional crafts, and tools in the smoke-filled lodges, everything being arranged around a central fire pit.
Built to resemble a traditional village, each of the clan houses is like a separate museum, filled with various artefacts, which relate to Gitxsan life. Along with fish traps, and bear skins, there are numerous carvings, photographs, and aboriginal art pieces. There are also several quotes, prominently displayed, which relate the philosophy of this respectful people.
Clans are extremely important to the Gitxsan people, divided into four clans, each has cedar built longhouse; Wolf, Eagle, Frog, and Fireweed. Clans are further divided into many Wilps, and membership is a matter of kinship, in fact most aspects of an individual’s life revolves around their kin.
Described as a historical village originally conceived by nation elders, many of the traditions, especially the values, kinship, and clans are of equal importance today.
Gitxsan people retain ties to traditional values, respecting each other, the land, the animals, and fish which they rely on for food. They managed to coexist peacefully with other nations for centuries, trading goods, cooperating with other First Nations they have become ‘defenders of the land’ staging peaceful protest to prevent corporate exploitation of the earth’s valuable resources. Western cultures could probably learn a great deal from indigenous people, how we treat each other, and the planet we call home.
Master Carver Randy Adams was on site demonstrating his art as part of the walking tour, though he arrived even later than I did. His daughter, and curator/manager of the museum, Cecilia Adams is a talented artist in her own right, and several of their creations, such as mattes, plaques, paddles, and headdresses are for sale in the small, but wonderful museum craft shop.
As well as the walking tour, there are regular dancing performances held in full regalia in the Wolf lodge throughout the summer. As well as the formal displays, more relaxed gatherings are common, apparently feasts of locally caught salmon are often stumbled upon by unsuspecting visitors.
It was with some regret I finally tore myself away from the Ksan village, but there were other appointments to keep. It’s amazing value, costing less than $10, and anybody taking a road trip in this part of British Columbia would be well advised to take a detour through the Hazeltons, and discover the culture, heritage, and hospitality of the Gitxsan. A people who fully understand the meaning of welcome.