The Hazeltons

After six weeks in the trailer, we are home! Though it was our plan from the beginning to arrive home today, I really wasn’t ready to end our gypsy wandering and I would have happily extended our travels indefinitely. Real life issues beckoned, however, and so it seemed wise to follow through on our original plan. As much as I loved being away from home, I did miss having access to wifi and being able to update the blog on a regular basis. Now that I’m connected again, I’ll do my best to share the remainder of our travels with you over the next few days.

The Hazeltons, a collection of small communities, located around the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers in northwestern British Columbia, have been home to the Gitxsan people for centuries. The Gitxsan are a matrilineal society made up of the Frog, Eagle, Wolf, and Fireweed clans. Though their territory is inland, their villages with intriguing names like Kispiox, Gitanmaax, and Hagwillget as well as Hazelton, New Hazelton, and South Hazelton, are a centre of Northwest Coast native culture and, as such, are a place that I’ve long dreamed of visiting. My love for the art and the culture of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest began as a child growing up on the coast of British Columbia and grew as a student of anthropology during my university years.

After settling into our campsite, we drove a few miles north to Kispiox, best known for the 15 totem poles, some dating back to 1880, that stand in the village alongside the Kispiox River. On the way into the village, we stopped to look at the art work decorating the band office.

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The following morning, we took a fascinating interpretive tour of the ‘Ksan Historical Village adjacent to our campground. It consists of seven replica cedar longhouses. One of the longhouses contains a small museum and a gift shop that are open to visitors who are also free to enjoy the grounds and photograph the buildings and totem poles. Only the guided tour, available in several languages, allows entrance into the three of the longhouses that contain an abundance of artifacts. The price is nominal and was well worth it! Aside from the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, I have not seen such an extensive collection of Northwest Coast history anywhere! Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the longhouses, so I’m not able to share that part of the experience with you.

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The small, narrow door in the last photo was designed to prevent enemies from entering in full armour.

As always, the totem poles fascinated me. Here’s a closer look at a few of them.

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We were especially fortunate to be in the area on a Wednesday. Every Wednesday evening during the summer months, a local group offers a traditional song and dance presentation in the Wolf House, one of the historical village’s longhouses. Again, for a nominal fee, I was thrilled to have the unique opportunity to see and experience this aspect of the Northwest Coast culture. I was especially delighted to see that the group included all ages; that the traditional songs and dances are being passed on to the younger generations.

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As we explored the various villages that make up the Hazeltons, we were especially impressed with how welcoming the First Nations residents were. While we were strolling around the historical section of Old Hazelton a local woman stopped to chat and told us about an easy 10 minute hike from New Hazelton to a beautiful waterfall. Had she not been willing to share with us, we would never have known about it!

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