Gitwangak (Kitwanga)

Photographer Unknown, ca. 1950's.

Gitwangak or Kitwanga, which means People of the Place of Rabbits, is the most western Gitxsan village on the Skeena River, and is approximately 241 kilometres from the coast. The village itself lies on the northern bank of the Skeena River in northern British Columbia. It is about 3 kilometres from the National Historic Site of Taawdzep or Gitwangak Battle Hill (formerly Kitwanga Fort).

Legend says that the warrior Chief Nekt built the fortified village, which was occupied during the late 18th century and the early 19th century. It was from here that Chief Nekt was able to rule over the much desired oolichan trade routes along the Kitwanga River. The fort was defended by rolling spiked logs down on attackers. As guns grew more accessible the fort was no longer secure, and around 1835, the fort was burned and abandoned. The inhabitants of the fort moved to another village for a brief period of time before moving to the present-day village of Gitwangak.

Following their move from Battle Hill to this village about 1835, members of the Frog-Raven (Ganada), Eagle (Laxskik) and Wolf (Laxgibu) clans commemorated their history in a series of carved house poles. The monuments in the present-day village were erected between 1840 and 1942, and each pertains directly to the families who once lived at Gitwangak Battle Hill. The Fireweed (Gisgast) clan joined the village later. Totem poles continued to be erected at potlatches in this village in spite of federal anti-potlatch laws, from 1874 to 1954. Although the remaining poles have been moved several times to protect them from floods, they represent the oldest collection to be found in their original village context anywhere in British Columbia.

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