ANCIENT VILLAGES AND TOTEM POLES OF THE NISG̱A'A

G̱alts’abim Gitwinksihlkw - Village of Gitwinksihlkw

Wil hii sit’aatkwshl Gitwinksihlkw ahl 1700’s, hliskwhl w̓ii t’isim g̱oshl wil ksi- bax̱hl mihl, iit tx̱aa n̓ii-bax̱kwhl mihl ḵ’alii-Lisims ts’im-t’in. Hli gadihl ksihlkwt siwatdiithl gathl wanit ts’im-t’in g̱ooḵhl dim g̱oshl wil ksi-bax̱hl mihl. Joḵ n̓idiit sdo’okshl w̓ii t’ax̱, ii tk’u-wanhl t’aamiks g̱anhl lax̱lax̱’u, n̓ihl tx̱aa n̓ii- bax̱gwihl mihl. Sim luu-mitkwhl ksihlkw ts’im-aks n̓ig̱an siwatkwst ahl hli gadihl ksihlkw.
Yukwhl ksi-bax̱hl mihl, iit n̓ii-bax̱kwhl mihl t’ax̱, t’aamiks g̱anhl gilp’ilhl g̱alts’ipts’ap ts’im-t’in. Lax̱-ksi-luux g̱anhl Lax̱-w̓ii lax̱-ḵ’ap. Wann̓ihl taaym, iit ukws-t’ishl wil mihl wilaa bax̱hl Lisims. K’il̓hl kilometre ahl ḵ’alii-aks wil ksi-gwantkwhl hloḵs ts’im-t’in wil sit’aatkwshl ts’ilaaskw, n̓ihl t’aat guun̓ ahl Gitwinksihlkw. G̱abiihl limootgwit ahl Gitwinksihlkw, ii lukwdiit ahl ḵ’alii-wil ksi-gwantkwhl hloḵs ahl wil hii sit’aatkwshl 1800. Hlaa sint ahl 1885, ii simgit mihl Gitwinksihlkw ii ts’uu gilp’il wil mihldiit ii sixsyaxhl pts’aan. W̓iy̓ sayt g̱oodahl hli gadihl g̱alts’ap iit amaa japdiithl g̱alts’ap diit.

Way hlaa huxw t’ip-mihl g̱alts’ap, ii sim t’ip-g̱oodat n̓i wil hidiit ahl dim gis-lukws diit, dimt kw’asa’andiithl ax̱’aam.
Jag̱a-luxwlukwhl hlag̱ats’uuhl gat ahl Under Leaf ii hlag̱ats’uudiit ii gisi-lukw- diit ahl Gwin̓ahaa. Ii taaym tgun-gi, iit siwatdiithl Gitwinksihlkw ahl hat’ag̱am g̱alts’ap ahl hugax̱thl g̱abiihl k’uuhl wil n̓idiit an ksg̱alanim ts’ilim-anooḵhl g̱a simutkwsit.
Hlaa pdaalhl aks ahl ḵ’alii-Lisims 1917, iit sim saa-yo’oksihl akshl Underleaf g̱anhl Gwin̓ahaa. Hlibuuhl gathl gwilks-lugwit ahl Gitwinksihlkw iit sityeexwdiithl wat ahl Canyon City. Hlag̱ats’uudiit ii gisi- lukwdiit ahl simutkwsim g̱alts’ap ahl Ging̱olx ahl saxwhl Lisims.

Sim ts’axw-g̱athl g̱abiihl pts’aanhl Gitwinksihlkw g̱ooḵhl dim ksi-bax̱hl w̓ii t’isim mihl ahl 1892. Ii 1907 ii wil ḵ’ay
mmaḵskwt-g̱ahl xbil̓ di kwsdinshl sim w̓ahlin-pts’aan Lax̱g̱alts’ap, ii loolaḵt wilt n̓ii-yox̱whl mihl g̱anhl hat’ag̱am lax̱ha. Nidii k’il̓hl pts’aan ji dilimootkwsit ahl sa guun̓.

The village of Gitwinksihlkw was founded in the late 1700s after a massive volcanic eruption buried the upper Nass River valley. The name Gitwinksihlkw means “People of the lizards”, a name that identified one group of people who had lived in the valley prior to the eruption. These people had lived near the large lake and surrounding ponds and swamps that were buried by the lava flow. These waters were populated with salamanders, hence the name “People of the lizards”.

During the eruption, several metres of lava covered the lake, the ponds, and two villages on the broad plain of the valley (Lax̱-ksi-luux and Lax̱-w̓ii-lax̱-ḵ’ap). At the same time, the leading edge of the lava flow pushed the course of the Nass River at least one kilometre to the northwest side of the valley, forming the narrow canyon that now exists at the village of Gitwinksihlkw. The survivors of the Gitwinksihlkw people eventually settled on the northwest shore of the canyon in the decades of the early 1800s, hence the village name.

In the summer of 1885, Gitwinksihlkw was damaged by the first of two great fires, and several totem poles were scorched. At this time, the people chose to stay and rebuild their community. However, when the entire village burned to the ground in a second great fire in 1892, the people decided to relocate and break their string of bad luck.

Some families moved directly across the river to a place called Underleaf, and several others moved across the river and downstream about 2 kilometres to establish the village of Gwin̓ahaa. At this time, Gitwinksihlkw had been known as “heathen village” for a few years, as it was the last village on the Nass River to permit the entry of the Christian missionaries.

During the tremendous Nass River flood of 1917, Underleaf and Gwin̓ahaa were all but washed off the map. A few families moved back to Gitwinksihlkw, which was renamed Canyon City, while others moved downriver to the missionary village of Ging̱olx at the mouth of the Nass.

According to early accounts, Gitwinksihlkw had many totem poles prior to the great fire of 1892. In 1907, there were as many as 15 aged poles still standing at the village in various states of decay due to weathering and fire damage. Unfortunately, no poles are known to have survived to present day.