Nisga’a of the Nass
In 2006 I lived in northern Kitimat, BC. My dog, Murphy and I drove up to explore the unique lava beds in the raw wilderness of Nisga’a territory roughly an hour north of Terrace, BC. To First Nations people, the park is known as Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a. The park is also known as Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park.
It’s hard to imagine it happening, but around the year 1750 – decades before Europeans came sailing up this way – a volcano erupted here spewing lava and killing over 2,000 Nisga’a people, destroying everything in its path and sparking devastating forest fires.
The vast lava beds remain today as a memorial to the lives lost. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park is a popular destination with a 16-site campground and a Visitors Centre displaying Nisga’a artifacts throughout July and August. There are guided tours of the lava beds, sport fishing, backcountry excursions, local accommodations, and majestic pts’aan (totem poles).
It is the first park in BC jointly managed between BC Parks and the Nisga’a Tribal Council. It boasts waterfalls, pools, cinder cones, tree moulds, lava tubes, spatter cones, a lava-dammed lake, caves and other features created by lava flows.
BC Parks’ website says this park offers “a chance to explore many unique and interesting features of a volcanic landscape and to learn about the culture and legends of the Nisga’a people.” This was so very true for us that day after we picked up Kenny Robinson, a Nisga’a man hitchhiking home from Terrace.
In exchange for a ride, he offered a guided tour of the lava beds and some Nisga’a villages along the way, including the home of a 400-foot suspension bridge: Gitwinksihlkw (Place of the Lizards) where according to oral tradition, large lizards lived there before the eruption.
I also received a warm welcome in the breathtaking village of Gingolx with spectacular views of the ocean and soaring eagles. The locals invited me into their long house to draw door prizes for a gathering and showed me how to prepare smoked salmon.
Using the clunky old cassette-loaded camcorder I had back then, I filmed the day’s events, including a terrifying encounter with an aggressive mother grizzly and cubs. Watch the video below!