Tribes and Clans

Traditional tribes of the Gitsegukla are the Fireweed (Gishast) and the Frog (Ganada) tribes with the Fireweed seated where the sun rises and the Frog seated where the sun sets during feasts. Through inter-marriage, the Gisegukla also includes the Wolf, Eagle and Killer Whale Clans.

Personal masks, head dresses, ceremonial blankets and rattles were all associated with chiefs and used during feasts or pole raisings.  This regalia shows our history, the wealth of our ancestors, and their names, which have been passed down through the generations.

Many of the original regalia were lost during the fire of 1872.  Some originals are found in museums or in private collections.  Replicas have been made and the tradition carried on to this day.

Each clan has a crest which tells the story of the age, origin, and history.  The crests are still very important and respectfully recognized as symbols of our people.  They are constant reminders of our rich cultural history, and our community of carvers, artists, dancers and singers that exist today.

Feasts and Ceremonies

Before modern transportation, a messenger would walk between communities to invite members to a feast, funeral or pole raising ceremonies.  The feast house would be filled with people from all the different villages.  Food was contributed by the host clan to all people equally (except during funerals).

When a chief passed away, the funeral would be held in honour and to appoint the new chief.  Ceremonial gifts and contributions would be provided, as well as traditional songs, such as the ‘Skin of the Groundhog’.  Children of the deceased chief would contribute their share, which represented returning their use of the land for hunting, fishing and trapping.  Other valuables included groundhog or rabbit skins, which were highly valued, wooden spoons, snowshoes, and devil club sticks.  These gifts would be redistributed to the guests by the host chief, along with his gratitude and recognition of others, and speeches by the other chiefs.

Totem Poles and Long Houses

The original long houses were situated on the river bank.  Long houses have only one door which face the river, with totem poles standing in front of the house.   The houses were traditionally made of spruce logs and split boards with cedar shakes for the roofs.  Raised ledges along the inside walls made sleeping areas.  Supplies and materials were kept in bent boxes.  There were no windows and smoke escaped through a hole in the roof for the central fire place. All members of a clan lived in the same house, with between 20-50 members living together.

Totem poles were raised for two main reasons, one marked the corner post of the territory to signify fishing, hunting or trapping grounds.  The other reason is to honour the memory of a chief, usually about a year after their death.

Traditional carvers made their own tools from animal bone and stone bound to handles. As modern materials became available, such as steel, they were incorporated into this practice.

Poles often took up to four years to complete and erect, with the figures selected by the owner.  Figures included crests, or elements of the crests, which were handed down through generations, and tell a story of an event.  Often these events are connected with the natural or animal world, which reflected the importance of our environment and surroundings.

The length and elaboration of the poles depended on the wealth of the owner, as does the care and upkeep of the poles.

Arthur McDames was a well known carver of Gitsegukla, after he passed away, there were few carvers taking up the tradition.  In the 1960’s, carvers such as Albert and Tillie Wilson, Clifford Sampare, and Victor, Steven and Sam Wesley, took up the tradition, sponsored by the Band Council.