Kiusta

Cartouche by Bill Reid.

The village of Kiusta lies on a sheltered beach facing Cloak Bay on the northwest corner of Graham Island, opposite Langara Island. It faces north onto Parry Passage, noted for its tidal currents, but is well protected by Marchand Reef along its northern end. The name of the town means “Where the tail comes out”, in reference to a substantial trail that is still used between this village and Lepas Bay on the west coast of Graham Island.

In 1774, during a ten-month voyage, the Spanish ship Santiago voyaged to British Columbia under Captain Juan Perez. Due to concerns of the ship’s water supply running low the Santiago approached Haida Gwaii (Graham Island) to find a secure harbour to drop anchor. It was here off the coast of Langara Island that three canoes approached the ship and the Spanish traded beads for dried fish. The following day twenty-one canoes appeared, and two of the Haida people boarded the ship.
 
Captain George Dixon was the first European to enter Cloak Bay in July of 1787, but he was prevented from sailing through Parry passage by the strong tides, and consequently he did not visit Kiusta. The abundance of sea otter around Langara Island brought many traders to the Cloak Bay area in the last two decades of the eighteenth century, but few bothered to mention Kiusta in their journals, preferring the larger and more accessible village of nearby Dadens.
 
The first reference to the village was made by John Meares in the published journal of the expedition of the Iphigenia, under Captain William Douglas. Although few precise landmarks are given, it appears that their first day’s exploration on June 20th, 1789, brought them as far as the middle of Parry Passage. A trade relationship would develop between these captains and Chief Cuneah exchanging items such as naval uniforms for sea otter pelts.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, ca. 1913 (RBCM).
Spanish Ship Santiago in 1774. © G. Miller

The best information about Kiusta at this time is provided by a drawing from the 1799 journal of the ship Eliza. It depicts eight houses and two empty house lots. Swanton’s old informants remembered nine houses that stood at Kiusta in the middle of the last century and eight more at the nearby village of Yaku. The drawing shows only one frontal pole, and even that is more like a large carved plank which scarcely projects above the peak of the house. It also shows two mortuary posts, one of which is massive an has a large animal figure, possibly a bear, to contain the coffin on top. Located beside the large house of Chief Gunia, it may be one that Douglas and his crew helped raise with ship’s tackle a decade earlier.


Spanish Ship Santiago in 1774. © G. Miller
The “Coneehaw”, “Connehaw”, or “Cunneaw” referred to in these excerpts was Chief Gunia. A territorial chief, he lived in a house on a small island near Kiusta, from which he exerted influence over the villages in the area. Shortly before the end of the eighteenth century Gunia moved with his lineage to the Prince of Wales Archipelago in southeast Alaska.
 
The town chief of Kiusta was Itltini. Soon after the departure of the Djus Island people, the main lineage of the Stastas relocated to the Kiusta area from their villages at the far eastern end of Graham Island near Rose Spit and at Hiellan.  Although, the Stastas Eagle families, under their chief, Edenshaw, built a sizable town at Kiusta during the 1800’s, there are few records of this event other than the remains of the houses and monuments themselves.
 
About 1850, according to Dalzell, Chief Edenshaw died and was succeeded by his nephew  Gwai-gu-unltlin of Cape Ball village who was known to Europeans as Albert Edward Edenshaw. By 1853 the population of Kiusta had declined seriously and the remaining occupants followed their chief east to Naden Harbour where they built new houses at an old village site which they renamed Kung.

Textual Information for this Page: Dalzell, 1973; G.F. MacDonald, 1983.