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Remains of Kiusta Village houses

Kiusta Village: Millennia of First Nations History and Culture Passed to the Next Generation

The First Nations in Canada have a rich history and on the Pacific coast of Canada, there are many archaeological sites that are of great importance. One of these is the Haida village of Kiusta in British Columbia. It is not only a significant archaeological site, it is also a center for the revitalization of Haida Culture. Here visitors can really understand the culture and lives of the First Nation people who flourished in the Pacific Northwest for millennia.

The village of Kiusta is on the coast of British Columbia and it is situated on a sheltered beach facing Cloak Bay in the archipelago known as Haida Gwaii . It is located on the northwest corner of Graham Island, and faces Langara Island. The village is near the famous Parry Passage which is noted for its treacherous currents and also the Marchand Reef.

Kiusta Is a Popular Attraction in British Columbia for Many Good Reasons

The village is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty and there are still remains of the original Haida settlement . To the west of the village are three mortuary posts that once supported a burial platform which had a series of mortuary boxes once used to inter the Haida dead. This is now largely overgrown. The Haida people of Kiusta, with the support of the authorities, has built three traditional longhouses on the site, based on drawings of the original structures from the 19 th century. They are set among a number of old carved poles that date from the original Haida settlement.

Haida Gwaii Museum (Fotolia)

Haida Gwaii Museum (Fotolia)

There are also three floating platforms used for recreational fishing in the straits between Langara Island and the village. The Haida in Kiusta and those nearby have also established a maritime conservation project in the area.  

The Haida Lived In the Village for Thousands of Years

The settlement was once on an important trail that linked the area to Lepas Bay and the name of the village in the Haida language means ‘where the trail comes out’. The Haida were renowned traders, pirates, and warriors and there is still a significant Haida community in British Columbia.

The village was the site of the first contact with Europeans. In 1787, the English Captain George Dixon and his ship the Eliza visited the Haida. In 1799 another ship visited the village and an accurate drawing of the settlement was drawn in its journal. 

At the heart of the village was a large house that belonged to the chief, who belonged to the Stats Eagles. However, the arrival of the Europeans disrupted the life of the Haida and many migrated north to the Prince of Wales Island off the shore of Alaska. The site was later repopulated by refugees from Haida Gwaii. It is believed that that the population of the village was 300 and that the Haida in the Kiusta were involved in the trade of precious seashells. For most of the 19 th century the village was governed by the charismatic chief Albert Edward Edenshaw who, when a ship became stranded near the village in the 1820s in Hudson Bay, looted its weapons and cargo. He sold on the weapons and acquired many slaves.

Historic totem poles of Haida village (Fotolia)

Historic totem poles of Haida village ( Fotolia)

The population of Kiusta was decimated because of a smallpox epidemic in the 1850s. The dwindling population and the remoteness of Kiusta meant that the community went into decline and eventually by the end of the 19 th century it was abandoned after several thousand years of occupation. Most of the villagers eventually moved to nearby Masset.

The village began to draw the attention of archaeologists and experts from the 1930s. In the 1960s archaeologists began to map the remains of the village and collect the oral histories of the Haida people. Many photographs were taken of the remains, especially totem poles and other carvings. They are a unique archive of the treasure of Haida art and today many artifacts gathered at the village can be seen at the Masset Community Museum.

At Kiusta Young People Are Encouraged To Rediscover Their Heritage

There are regular chartered float plane flights to the nearby Langara Island. The areas around Langara Island and Kiusta is renowned for commercial fishing. 

There is a variety of accommodation near Kiusta - floating accommodation for fishermen and women off Langara Island, as well as Langara Island Lodge. Kiusta Village is playing a leading role in the revival of the culture of the original inhabitants of this part of British Columbia. In the summer months Kiusta is part of the ‘rediscover your heritage program’, which allows young people to rediscover the history and traditions of the Haida people and culture.

Top image: Remains of Kiusta Village houses             Source: ( Fotolia)

By Ed Whelan

References

Jonaitis, A. 1991. From the Land of the Totem Poles . University of Washington Press. Available from http://llrc.mcast.edu.mt/digitalversion/table_of_contents_129635.pdf

MacDonald, G.F., 2011. Haida monumental art: villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands . UBC Press.

Robinson, M.P. and Robinson, M. 1996. Sea otter chiefs . Bayeux Arts Incorporated.

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