COMMENTARY · 30th October 2012
Terrace Daily News
All cultures began with the telling and relating of stories about their own origins and systems of understanding. Later these stories are transcribed into text for readers. The Indians of the Sacred Circle, the northwest region of BC, are no different in this regard.
What follows is a couple of extracts of the origin stories as related by Ken Harris in the book, “The Visitors Who Never Left.”
We have unbound our copy; an original signed by Ken Harris himself, and scanned every page. Attached below is the entire book for our readers’ interest.
This book can rightly be referred to as the Bible of the Sacred Circle as it contains the origin stories of all the Nations contained therein. It even contains the Virgin Birth Story and the Flood Story, stories the Indian people knew of long before the western missionaries arrived. It is why the Indians of Damelahamid were so accepting of the new Jesus stories; they closely resembled all the stories told by their great grandparents.
From the Introduction
These, then, are the myths of Damelahamid, a Utopian paradise, lying between the Nass and Skeena Rivers in northern British Columbia. According to these stories, the earliest inhabitants came to earth from Heaven and brought the unenlightened Indian people then living in sur rounding areas their culture. Many descendants still live in the ancient area bounded by the villages of Kispiox, Kitwancool, Kitwanga, and Kitsegucla.
These people are known as Gitshian, or Gitksan, and, as Ken Harris's stories show, still do not consider themselves part of the Tsimshian group in which anthropologists place them. Boas says that it seems probable that the Tsimshian first lived on the upper Skeena River, and Garfield describes the areas of the Tsimshian as encompassing both the Nass and Skeena River valleys, ranging from Portland Canal in the north to Swindle Island in the south on the coast, with the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands in the Pacific their westernmost neighbours. The Tlingit live in the north, and the Kwakiutl, Bella Bella, and Bella Coola, in the south. Inland, the eastern boundary is formed by Athapascan-speaking peoples. According to Ken Harris, in ancient times the Pacific Ocean is believed to have lapped the shores of Damelahamid before receding to its present position.
This is Ken Harris speaking. I will attempt to translate the history of our people of Damelahamid as it was told by Arthur McDames who was the Chief of Damelahamid and my mother, Mrs. Irene Harris, who explained the meaning of the Indian terms to me.
I also speak for myself as I am the last source of such information and as I hold the title of Hagbegwatku, First Born of our Nation.
I feel that this information must be passed on to my relatives and clansmen. Because of the changing times and the fact that our people are now in a transition period, my choice of media, the printed word, is essential.
There is no longer the time to tell the myths as we used to in the old days. Many non-Indian friends have made kind words of encouragement and I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all.
I extend very special thanks to Frances Robinson who occupies a very special place in my heart, in the hearts of my family, and in the hearts of the people of Damelahamid, for her great help in the publication of this work. In recognition of this valuable assistance I, Hagbegwatku of Damelahamid, confer the title of Bigetdeda (a princely title meaning "occupying the key position") on her at this time. This, in effect, means that I have adopted her as my sister.
Dem gam ae yeas Bigetdeda.
IN THE BEGINNING
Story One tells of the origin of the people of Damelahamid, emphasizing the supernatural element. The people of Damelahamid were not the first people on earth, but they were the first to introduce a culture to the Northwest Coast area stressing the relationship of the people with their Father-in-Heaven and starting a matrilineal system.
The Happenings in Heaven
Ken Harris says that Indians have always emphasized virgin births. The bath mentioned in the corner of the house was a kind of waterfall that came out of the corner of the house and disappeared into the ground. The names Liggeyoan, Akagee and Goestella are still in use today for princes and princesses. The box, the hawlhz-ganku, is recognized as being an important gift from the Father-in-Heaven. This Indian word is only used on two other occasions when a particular box is mentioned in con nection with a supernatural being. The significant pole, the gilhast, gets its name from gil meaning only or prime and hast meaning pole.
The Father-in-Heaven is recognized as the Creator. His Indian name is Simoigetdamla ha. He is also referred to as the Heavenly Father. Simoiget means First Man or chief. When the white man appeared with his Christian God, the Indians were satisfied that He was the same as their own.
They were in a strange place, a beautiful and a strange place and they were obviously in front of the chief's house because it was so different. Everything about it was different. And the young man said, "Come, enter with me and you will meet my family." And she did.
The chief of the house, the young man's father, said, "There is a bath in the corner of the house. You will bathe this young lady."
They put her under it. The servants took all her clothes off and they put her under the water. And the waters just peeled her skin. Her appearance was different. She was very much like the people who had taken her. They were all different. They were just like light. She became different and the chief of the house directed her to her quarters called tyak tyak.
She went and they gave her a mat to sleep on. She laid on it. And her husband-to-be, he who accepted her for his wife, went upstairs to a higher balcony where he lived. The sun seemed to appear from where he was and shone upon her. He never saw her again. Only the beam of the sun, as she interpreted it, was shining upon her.
In short order she became pregnant. And she had a boy — a baby boy — and his grandfather took the boy. He took him into the corner and washed him. He washed him, washed him well, and then he stretched him. The boy grew by feet. In short order she got pregnant again. And she had another boy. The same thing happened. The grandfather took the boy and washed him in the bath in the corner and then stretched him. Not too long after, she was pregnant again and a girl this time was born. The grandfather did the same thing. He took her to the corner and washed her and stretched her.
Now all this was a very unusual thing. This young lady had not known men. She had menstruated for the first time and after the order of our time a girl did not marry until after she menstruated and she does not know men. The young lady had not known anybody and these were very unusual births for her to have children and still not know a man. But the grandfather was ready now. He had given them names. They were quite grown-up now and they had names.
The first one was called Liggeyoan. The second born was Ahagee and the little girl was given the name Goestella. Now these names were designed for different purposes. Liggeyoan was to be the elder and the leader of the three, and Akagee, his brother, and their sister, Goestella, were all to return to earth.
The grandfather made preparations to send them back to earth. He gave them instructions. He told them, "There are several things that you have to do. One of them is to avenge your people and I will give you what you need to do this." He pulled out a box, a decorated box, and in this box, the hawlhzganku, there was a pole — a very small pole. It had absolutely nothing on it. It was straight and true. And in this box there was a hat, a hat known as Ian num. ghide. It had ermine fur on it and also very brilliant stones. He also gave them the tja-ho, the name given to the instrument that was used when their mother was first picked up, and this instrument was to be the tool of destruction for the time when they were to avenge their relatives on earth.
The grandfather told them several things that were going to happen. He said, "When you go back to earth, you are going to avenge your people."
He also gave them a little box known as goldum tsean. This was a gambling box and it was a common thing in those days to use this type of gambling box. There were two little sticks. One was marked and the other one wasn't. The chips that they used then were these marked sticks. These sticks represent different things or different values. And so he gave them these things and he told them, "When you get back to earth, you are going to challenge the chief of the other village. I will give you all this material that you are going to lose. You are going to lose, and when you lose too much you are going to become very angry and you are going to have to kill the chief. This will be the beginning of your revenge." And he says, "After this is all done I am going to remove you from this area and I am going to place you in a new land.
This new and beautiful land you are going to call Damelahamid.
At this new place you are going to build your new house, your new home. And in front of your new home I want you to plant this little pole that I have given you. And this little pole, you will find, will grow all by itself. It is going to grow to pierce the sky and the name will become known as gilhast. You are going to build your home according to these specifications.
You are going to have twelve logs in the front, twelve logs at the back, and twelve logs on the sides, and these homes you are going to build from one generation to the other. Because there will come a time when there will be a flood. It is going to be a big flood. And when this time comes a lot of people will run away from this flood. They will go to the highest mountains. But you won't. You and your family will stay in your home, your dakh. And you are going to cut this great big pole down, the gilhast, and are going to use it as braces. You are going to brace or reinforce your dakh. This is what you are going to call your new home — a dakh.
"You are going to brace your dakh with the gilhast and you are not going to run away. You are going to survive the flood because you are chosen to survive this flood." When all the instructions were finished, the grandfather took them and placed them in a little canoe along with the box that he had given them.
The grandfather gave them the hawlhz-ganku in which were the Ian num. ghide, which was to be the crown of Damelahamid, and the tree that was going to grow itself and which became known as the gilhast, and the tja-ho. The tja-ho began, too, as a special instrument. There was only one known in the world and it was used for one purpose only. So the grandfather put them in a canoe and he placed them on earth.
Numerous books are available to provide further knowledge on the original culture of the Indians of the Sacred Circle.
During the Nisga’a Treaty negotiations, Neil J Sterritt, Susan Marsden, Peter R Grant, Robert Galois and Richard Overstall compiled an extensive volume of worked titled “Tribal Boundaries in the Nass Watershed.” In our estimation this book is required reading for all who wish to understand the Local Indian culture.
The purpose of this was to demonstrate the Nisga’a claims to the Nass River Watershed were completely unfounded. During their extensive research they gathered together many stories of the elders, those who could not read or write but knew the stories told of old. These stories are transcribed almost in their entirety in this scholarly work.
They also mirror the stories related by Ken Harris in the “Visitors Who Never Left”.
Tribal Boundaries in the Nass Watershed was originally circulated in 1995 with the distribution of 230 copies throughout the NW First Nations and to all those involved in the Nisga’a Treaty process. It was later edited and published in 1998 by UBC Press under ISBN 0-7748-0660-5 (hardcover) ISBN 0-7748-0661-3 (paperback)
“Men of M’deek” and “Wars of M’Deek” published in 2005 by the Kitselas Band, also mirrors these stories as do almost every story told by elders to their children. This recollection was compiled by Will Robinson, after spending many years with Chief and Elder Walter Wright, beginning in 1936. This book can be located by contacting the Kitselas Band Office or using ISBN 0-9733526-0-4
The book found attached below however provides the foundation stories of Damelahamid, the birth place, the Garden of Eden, the interaction with the “Heavenly Father” at the beginnings of all things.
If one were to compile all the stories into a compilation such as the New Testament, we would find chapters of related stories much like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
These are the stories of the people of Damelahamid, the people of the sacred Circle, the Gixsan, We’tsewet’en, the Tsimshian, the Haisla, the Haida, the Nisga’a, the Tlingit and the Tahltan.
Enjoy our copy of The Visitors Who Never Left
The original draft copy of the document prepared to demonstrate the Nisga'a claims to the entire Nass River watershed were without foundation
The UBC Press printed copy of the same book as above
The back cover of The Visiters Who Never Left