Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Gwaii Haanas National Park



 

Fur traders called the village Ninstints, a corruption of ‘Nan Sdins’ who was the chief at that time. The Haida people have returned to using the Chief's name as the designation for this village, the most important village of the Kunghit Haida.

 

The year was 1862. The Haida were already suffering from the European diseases that had accompanied trade and prosperity. Francis Poole, a miner from Skincuttle Inlet just north of SGaang Gwaii, described the final blow. "At New Aberdeen, we had compassionately taken a European on board as a passenger via Queen Charlotte to Victoria. As ill luck would have it what should he do but fall sick of small pox, some days before we arrived at the copper mines. I entered a vehement protest against him being put on shore, knowing all too well the certain consequences. The little skipper insisted, however, and then weighed anchor without him. Scarce had the sick man landed when the Indians again caught it; and in a very short space of time some of our best friends of the Ninstints had disappeared forever. "

 

His fears could not have been more justified. Within the space of 20 years, the thriving community at SGaang Gwaii was decimated. From a population of more than 300, there remained about 30 survivors using the site as a camp. They were eventually taken from the village to live with their former rivals in Masset and Skidegate, leaving behind the spirits of their loved ones and the giant memorial poles that told the stories of their lives. The early photographs of Anthropologist Charles Newcombe who visited Nan Sdins from 1897 to 1903 help us appreciate the magnitude of what was lost here. The crest figures depicted on the poles were still crisp. Many of the houses were still standing. In 1957, it was decided to remove a number of poles to museums, to preserve some of the art and heritage of this magnificent culture. Public awareness of Haida art was raised by seeing the poles in Vancouver and Victoria, prompting the suggestion that the 26 remaining poles at Nan Sdins should also be preserved.

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