Creekstone Press Publications
Excerpts from Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History
From the introduction
My parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles told exciting stories about growing up in northwest British Columbia. They laughed and joked, gossiped and teased. They spoke of amusing, larger than life people and romantic places along winding forest trails, places like Kisgegas, Kuldo, Bear Lake, Manson Creek, Telegraph Creek, the Omineca and Cassiar gold fields and the Yukon. Their stories gave texture and meaning to my mental maps.
I longed to travel their trails, to experience those places for myself. Later in my life I did that, and went far beyond the familiar paths of my ancestors. Eventually I realized that maps, both imagined and real, can unite people and define their connection to the land, family, culture, language, history—to home.
But that would come later. I was born and raised in Hazelton in the 1940s. My father was born in a Gitxsan village, Glen Vowell, and my mother was born in a Newfoundland outport village, Little Bay Islands. Whenever we visited my Gitxsan grandparents, the adults spoke Gitxsan unless my mother was present and then, out of respect, they switched to English.
Hazelton was the white community, and Gitanmaax—the reserve just up the hill from our house—was the Gitxsan community. There were disputes and rivalries between the children of these communities but they were never serious. And when it came to sports and games, we all played together.
Horses and cows wandered the dirt streets and wood plank sidewalks. Because livestock ran free, everyone fenced their yards to protect their gardens. During spring breakup we all played in the melt water that ran down the hill and along Government Street, building dams and making hand-carved boats. We caught (and set free) swallows with simple bolo-like devices as they swooped about looking for nesting material. We played marbles and other children’s games along
the streets and in the school yard. The only building specifically designated a school was next to our house. It had one teacher who taught about twenty pupils in several lower grades. Empty buildings here and there about town provided makeshift classrooms for those in the higher grades.
Barrel stoves were lit each cold morning to heat the schools. Our homes were heated the same way, with the addition of a McClary cook stove in the kitchen and a wood or coal heater in the front room. During winter we slid on sleighs, cardboard or tin or skied down Smith Hill and the hill by Gitanmaax Community Hall, near our house...