Enrichment through Travel: A Cultural Journey to the Nass and Skeena Valleys of British Columbia

By Barbara Baker, NDSC Regional Director; Docent, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and Steve Weisman, NDSC Secretary; Docent, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (September 2018)

In June 2018, twenty-eight Museum of Anthropology (MOA) volunteers journeyed 1500 km (930 miles) north from Vancouver to the interior of British Columbia for five days of enrichment activities. Organized by the Volunteer Associates Continuing Education and Enrichment Committee, in collaboration with MOA Curator of Education Jill Baird, the trip focused on Indigenous groups that had not previously been highlighted in our activities, and included the traditional ancestral territories of the Nisga’a, Gitksan, Gitanyow, Haisla, and Tsimshian First Nations.


                       MOA Volunteers and Staff at the Nisga’a Museum/Hli Goothl at Laxgalts’ap Wilp Adokshl Nisga’a

Accompanying the group were two MOA staff members: Associate Director Moya Waters, and Curator of Education Jill Baird, whose extensive relationships with First Nations people and artists enabled the group to interact with a number of culturally knowledgeable Indigenous leaders.

 We had the opportunity to meet with artists, writers, cultural leaders, and museum professionals to experience their cultures. We were treated to private tours of the Museum of Northern BC in Prince Rupert, the Kitselas Longhouses (including the ancient village site of Gitlaxdzawk), the Nisga'a Lisims Government House, the Ksan Historical Village, and the Nisga’a Museum (which is part of Culture at the Centre, a collaborative exhibition currently at MOA). We wandered in Gitanyow Village, a National Historic Site, examining the many poles there (both historic and modern)

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                   New Poles on the Site of the Ancient Village of Gitlaxdzawk on the Skeena River

Artists Dempsey Bob, Ken McNeil, and Stan Bevan provided us with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Coast Mountain College.  Award winning Heiltsuk/Haisla author Eden Robinson regaled us with tales of her growing up in Kitimaat Village, her community connections, and her writing process. 


Artists Ken McNeil, Dempsey Bob, and Stan Bevan at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Coast Mountain College, Terrace, British Columbia


Award Winning Author (Monkey Beach and Son of a Trickster) Eden Robinson Chatting with MOA Volunteers and Staff and Signing Books

On one very hot day, we visited the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, a memorial to the thousands of Nisga’a whose lives were lost when a nearby volcano erupted over two hundred and sixty years ago, an event believed to be in retribution after children showed disrespect to the life-giving salmon.


Sii T’ax (Lava Lake) and Mount Poupard en route to the Nisga’a Museum/Hli Goothl at Laxgalts’ap Wilp Adokshl Nisga’a

A highlight was celebrating National Aboriginal/Indigenous/First Nations Day (June 21) with Mike and Mique’l Dangeli and Tsimshian community members in Kitsumkalum. As none of the volunteers belongs to a First Nations group, we were honoured to be recognized as members of the Butterfly Clan and invited to actively participate in these cultural festivities.


Duane Grant, Nick Dangeli, Mike Dangeli, and Mique'l Dangeli Celebrating National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2018, at Kitsumkalum

Along with friendships strengthened and connections made, this trip provided the opportunity for all of us, volunteers and staff, to connect directly with Indigenous knowledge holders, in their communities and on their lands. As we develop deeper understandings of the groups we encounter, we experience a greater appreciation of and passion for them, which in turn enables us to share our understandings in new ways with museum visitors, whether through tours, school programs, or simple interactions. Our growth and our actions are one path to reconciliation.