Northern British Columbia: Wild Salmon Curing, the Gitxsan First Nation, and More! Part 3

August 30, 2019

Skeena River

People of the river of mist. That is the translation for the Gitxsan (also Gitksan) of the First Nation who have lived in the Skeena River basin for hundreds of years. We enjoyed some mist with part of the day taking in the gorgeous scenery with Northern BC Jet Tours.The day began at Hazelton, British Columbia, Canada (456 km- 734 miles) northwest of Vancouver. Our captain and cultural/historical guide was Rob Bryce. Rob has worked for the University of Northern British Columbia and has been coordinating these workshops for over 22 years. He is undoubtedly a wealth of facts on the natural resources and the First Nation history. 

The first historical site we visited was the bridge built in the 1900s to enable trains to efficiently move gold and other minerals to the coast. Before this, the workhorses commencing on the river were the paddlewheel steamboats (sternwheeler). 

The sternwheelers provided some wild rides on the raging river, which is the second-longest in B.C. It is considered to be the fastest flowing river in B.C., with water levels rising 17 feet in a day and changes that can be 60 feet between low and high water. The net result was many shipwrecks and nervous times for the captains. However, our ride was a mellow cruise of enjoying the mountain scenery and history discussion. 

Elder Vern Milton

Afterward, Rob pulled the boat to the shore where we received an official welcome from Elder Vern Milton of the Kitseguecla (part of the larger Gilxsan Nation) and fellow tribe member Clyde. 

Salmon curing

Clyde took us to his smokehouse where the spring salmon were curing. Clyde had just caught these salmon several days ago and told us they are considered the best-tasting salmon. We agreed! The Skeena has millions of spawning salmon: chum, coho, pink, sockeye, and spring (chinook). You can see that salmon is a big part of their life. 

We thanked Clyde and Vern, and we jetted off to our next spot, a beach stop for lunch. Rob had baskets of freshly made sandwiches, pasta, fruit, and muffins. This was courtesy of Yellow Cedar Lodge owned by his significant other, Simone. Maybe next time we will go to her lodge and enjoy their facilities. After lunch, we finished our 85 km (53 miles) boat ride and proceeded to our next venue.  

Gitxsan First Nation

At the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers, we found the replica village of the Gitxsan (also spelled Gitksan) Nation and learned a little about how they lived. The Ksan Historical Village is located in the community of Hazleton. The nation had four clans (split frog, eagle, wolf, and fireweed clans) and each clan had their own longhouse.

The longhouses were built with cedar logs tightly woven with cedar rope, which needed to be tight to keep the winter elements out. It is difficult to do justice in describing the incredible artwork, and we could not take pictures, so our memory of the awe and enjoyment will have to suffice. The intricate design of the eagle's head, the talking stick, the tapestry made from cedar, and all the different masks was stunning. This is a must see!

Bert Mercer

Back to the future? This visit to the historical village was very educational, but now we moved on to see the cutting-edge things the Nisga'a Nation is doing. We proceeded west on a 2.5-hour drive through the countryside to meet with Bert Mercer at Gitlaxt' aamiks (formerly New Aiyansh). Bert spoke with great excitement about the Nisga'a Treaty, which took effect in 2000: This is the first modern-day treaty in B.C. and is the fourteenth treaty in Canada to be negotiated since 1976. 

There are many provisions to the treaty. Some of the highlights are on what the Nisga'a received: 196 million (in 1999 dollars), 2,019 square kilometers of land, annual allocation of land, and much more. One of the more controversial parts is that the governing body of the nation became the only First Nation of Canada to let people own tribal land privately. Bert believes this will give tribal members equity in the homes help promote locally owned businesses. However, some of the critics say it could eventually be a step for people to lose land and become assimilated. Time will tell, but this certainly seems to be a positive and a progressive step.

Will eruptions be coming? No, we are not talking about any controversies, but the last lava flow that happened in the area over 250 years ago; the Tseax volcanic eruption

Tseax volcanic eruption

This flow took a devasting path that was 20 km (12 miles) in length and covered 40 square km (9884 acres). Sadly, it engulfed villages along the Ness River and killed 2000 people.

There were no current signs of volcanic actively, but the Tseax cone is in the southern part of the Northern Cordilleran Volcanic Province, which is part of the Ring of Fire. Hopefully, no more eruptions are on the horizon. Thus, we enjoyed some of the shorter hiking trails, and one longer hike goes to the cinder cone. Next time for that one. 

Our day was coming to close, and we took the hour and a half drive to Terrace Airport to grab some dinner before our flight home, the Blue Fin Sushi Bar. While this did not entail any First Nation culture, the excellent fresh and local fish made for some absolutely delicious sushi! 


Note: This is the third part of a three-part series. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 here. 

 Salmon sushi


Editorial disclosure: travel, and food, were generously provided.