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Wilson Duff interview with Jonathan Johnson at Kispiox

Item is an audio recording of an interview by Wilson Duff with Jonathan Johnson about the geography of the Gitxsan village of Kispiox and surrounding region. According to Tribal Boundaries in the Nass Watershed by Neil J. Stewart (MOA Reading Room, call number 12.7c GIT STE), Jonathan Johnson (1902-1968) of Kispiox was from the House of Xhliimlaxha and had knowledge of territories in the Nass watershed, including his father’s territory at Gwinhagiistxw. In interviews that took place on July 6 and 7, 1965, Duff gathered information about house territories in the Nass and Skeena watersheds to produce a map showing territories and numbered sites at Kispiox, see the Wilson Duff fonds at MOA, Box/File# Mc15, File# 10-B-21.

House of Wiiseks/Wiigyet of Gitsegukla Totem Pole

Image of a totem pole in Gitsegukla owned by Gary Hill Sr. of the house of Wiiseks/Wiigyet. The pole was cut down and as of March 2019 there are plans to make another one.

Additional images of this pole are printed on page 122 of Carter's book Abundant Rivers.

Anthony Carter


Series documents Jensen and Powell’s work with and visits to the Gitxsan speaking villages in North Western British Columbia. Jensen and Powell worked with the Gitxsan to produce language and culture material.

Jensen’s first visit to Gitxsan territory was in 1975, before they began to work with the communities. Jensen was asked to accompany Dr. Marjorie Halpen of the Museum of Anthropology, Amelia Sussman Schultz (a former student of anthropologist Franz Boas) and UBC grad student Carol Sheehan McLaren to Prince Rupert and various Gitxsan villages. The impetus for the journey was that Schultz was interested in recovering her old dissertation notes that she left with William Beynon, a hereditary Tsimshian chief who served as ethnographer, translator, and linguistic consultant to anthropologists including Boas. Although she had never completed her dissertation, in her retirement she regretted leaving the information. During this trip Jensen photographed the Gitxsan villages through which they travelled, making special note of the burial houses and totems she encountered.

Two years later the Gitxsan band approached Jensen and Powell to create language and culture materials. Powell secured the funding through the BC Ministry of Education and the federal government.

Powell and Jensen lived and worked with the Gitxsan in the summers from 1977 to 1981. The first three years were spent focussing on what they have termed the Eastern dialect. In this period they lived and worked in Kispiox, staying in a teacherage the first year (a small apartment built for housing teachers), and moving in the second year to the back room of the house of one of their linguistic informants, Clara Harris. The third year they again lived with Clara Harris until halfway through the summer when they decided to expand the project to include the Western dialect: at this time they moved to Kitwancool (now known as Gitanyow) where they again lived in a teacherage. The final two summers they returned to Kispiox to live with Clara Harris.

Powell worked with a number of linguistic informants, including Clara Harris, Edith Gawa, and Mary Johnson for the Eastern dialect, and Solomon Marsden, with the help of Ivan Good, Maggie Good, Cindy Morgan, Edith and Abel Campbell, David Milton, Olive Mulwain, Fred Johnson and Jeffrey Morgan for the Western. The materials produced throughout the Gitxsan project are divided into Eastern and Western Gitxsan. The books produced for the Eastern dialect were called Gitxsan for Kids. The books for the Western dialect were called Learning Gitxsan. In addition to the educational material, other resources were developed including illustrated alphabet sheets, the Northwest Coast Word List (which was intended as the basis for a full dictionary, a goal that did not transpire), and the Gitxsan Teacher’s Manual.

As was the case with all the communities they lived in, Powell and Jensen found that work and recreation in small Indigenous communities blended together, and many of the activities they took part in were incorporated into the language materials produced. Jensen photographed the cultural activities they attended, and they made audio and photographic records of Elders reminiscing about what they referred to as the “old ways.” Both Jensen and Powell were adopted into Gitxsan tribes during their time living in the region: Jensen to the Firweed Clan, and Powell to the Lax Gibuu, or Wolf Clan, both of Kispiox. This series comprises all the records created during their stays in Gitxsan villages.

The series consists of nine sub-series:
A. Field notes and correspondence
B. Research
C. Published educational materials
D. Unpublished manuscripts
E. Tsimshian-Gitxsan materials
F. Eastern and Western Gitxsan recordings
G. Eastern Gitxsan photographs
H. Western Gitxsan photographs
I. Doreen Jensen
J. Gitxsan artist photographs

Pole of Gurhsan, Gitsegyukla

Image depicts a totem pole erected in a farming area. It stands behind a rail fence and in front of a wooden barn. Read's notes state: "The Owl, or Grave-of-Gurhsan, form representation of the mythic owl. The pole dates from about 1913, was carved by Arthur Wilson, of Larksail phratry."

Pole of Mawlarhen, close up

Image depicts a close up of a totem pole, depicting the face of a human-like figure at its base. Read's note indicates this is the Pole of Mawlarhen at Gitsegyukla. "Raven at top; half pole uncarved; then large eagle, with folded wings; sitting frog; frog hanging with head down; bottom, the Man of the Comb whose hands, raised with palms forward are like native combs. Pole c1925, was about 40 years old. Erected to commemorate Mawlarhen and his sister Poking Bullhead. Carver local artist, Jimmy Good of the Fireweed phratry." See also item a034838 for another view of this pole.

Two totem poles

Image depicts two poles standing in an open area. The front pole features a human-like creature on visible portion. The back pole also includes a human figure at the bottom with an owl on top. The figures on the bottom may be crest figures (Leading In or Halfway Out) or a Man of the Wild. Read's note suggests that one of these may be a Pole of Hrkyadet at Kispiox.

Three totem poles

Image depicts three totem poles, standing in an open area. Reads note under this photo indicates that the pole on the left may by a Snag-of-the-Sand-Bar pole from the House of Chief Skogum Laxhe. The pole on the right may be Chief Laxhes Hat-of-Tsagyem-hanak Pole. See also item a034837 for a closeup of the Snag-of-the-Sand-Bar pole.

Carving of Grizzly Bear of the Water

Image depicts a carving of a creature that resembles a bear--with fins. The carving sits on a wooden structure, possibly a carver's bench. Several buildings can be seen behind the carving platform.

Read Notes

Read's note cards detail information about three groups of totem poles and contain text and page references to Marius Barbeau's book, Totem Poles of the Gitksan, Upper Skeena River, British Columbia (published by the Canada Department of Mines and the National Museum of Canada, 1929).

David Gunanoot, Gitsxan Chief

Portrait of David Gunanoot, Chief of Gitxen. A similar portrait of him is printed on page 107 of Carter's book Abundant Rivers.

Anthony Carter

David Gunanoot, Haselton, BC

Portrait of David Gunanoot, Chief of Gitxen. A similar portrait of him is printed on page 107 of Carter's book Abundant Rivers.

Anthony Carter

Miscellaneous totem pole images

File consists of images of totem poles and other carvings, some of which were taken at the University of British Columbia. The others are unidentified.

Anthony Carter

Poles of Ksrarom-Larhae

Image depicts two totem poles erected very close together. Read's notes indicate that these are the Poles of Ksrarom-Larhae, located in Gitsegyukl. "Snag-of-the-Sand-Bar pole. At the bottom the monster Hagwelaworh (?), a whale-like sea monster. "

Totem pole detail

Image depicts a close up showing the details of the lower figures on a totem pole, probably the Snag-of-the-Sand-Bar pole from the House of Chief Skogum Laxhe. The bottom figure is is the monster Hagwelawrh, who lives under the water and causes the Sand-Bar to raise with his back. See also image a034836 for another view of this pole.

Totem pole with details

Image depicts a totem pole that features three figures at the top, an animal underneath, and possibly a human at the base.

Memorial pole

Image depicts a totem pole with an inscription indicating that it is in memorial to a Chief who died. The pole depicts two similarly carved creatures that may be owls. Several buildings are visible behind the pole and mountains can be seen in the distance.

Kitwanga totem poles

Image depicts several totem poles standing in a row. Read's pencil notes suggest that these are the Poles of Arteeh at Kitwanga .The pole second to the right is called the Pole of the Mountain Lion. See also items a034845 and a034846.

Mountains and river valley

Image depicts a range of mountains with a valley and river running through it. Based on Read's itinerary for this trip, this may be the Skeena River and valley.

Read Journal

Read's handwritten journal (July 8 - August 5, 1948) of his trip from Vancouver to the Skeena River Valley and back, details the weather, road conditions, people he met, and fish caught along the way.

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