Haida Totem Poles - Head of Portland Canal

Chapter 1 - The Beginning

Indian villages we always ready for battle. From time immemorial, the territory that is now the Portland Canal District, was the hunting grounds of the Nass Indians, and no permanent residences were established within its confines on account of difficulties with defense against the raiding Haidas from the Queen Charlotte Islands in frontal attacks from the sea, and the Stikine from the rear.

The tribesmen throughout the Nass Valley from the mouth of the river to Meziadin Lake were allied with the Indians of the Kitwankool Valley, their band of Union no doubt being their joint interests in the oolichan fisheries at the mouth of the Nass, which were caught in great numbers and the oil extracted and used in the barter with the interior Indians, the Grease Trail from Kitladamix on the Nass to the interior being a well traveled thoroughfare.

The Haida Indians, one of the most war like, and intelligent tribes on the Pacific Coast, made many raids on the Nass Indians and were usually repelled, until the advent of a Haida chieftain, about one hundred and fifty years ago, who, abandoning the customary tactics of a massed attack, divided his forces and portaged a number of war canoes across the narrow neck of land at Nasoga Gulf.

Taking the flotilla of the Nass Indians in front and rear, he gained a victory that was so overwhelming that the conquered tribe was never again able to oppose them. Much booty was taken, along with women and children for wives and slaves, and in the northerly parts of the Queen Charlotte Islands many of the Indians can trace their ancestry back to the time of their progenitor’s captivity.

This was the last of the Haida raids on a major scale, but the intermittent attacks of the Stikine Indians continued down to comparatively modern times, when a raiding party of Stikines wiped out a settlement of Kitwankool Indians at Meziadin Lake about seventy years ago. The Kitwankools had a permanent habitation at the falls on Meziadin River, the outlet of the lake, where salmon congregate in great numbers before ascending the river to spawn.

Meziadin LakePainted rocks throughout the district bear evidence to the former Indian occupation, but with the passage of time the pictures have become obliterated and it is now difficult to guess their meaning.. One picture occupied the smooth face of the rock cliff at Bear River bridge before it was blasted away when quarrying operations started for filling dams for river protection. The colors used were red and yellow from oxides, and blue and green from copper outcrops. Thus the Indians may be credited with being the first to utilize the minerals of the district.

About a mile north of Seal Rocks on the Alaskan side of the Portland Canal, stands the Arrow Rock, a precipice rising straight from the sea. After the lapse of a century or there still may be several shafts of arrows shot into the crevices of the rock by the enraged tribesmen who had gathered to encompass the death of the evil spirit that dwelt within the rock. For two seasons the annual run of salmon on the Nass had failed and the medicine men of the tribes in council decided the fish were devoured by the demons of the rock. Upon an appointed time a great gathering of Indians arrived and from their canoes they shot an avalanche of arrows into the cliff, until they were satisfied the evil spirit was no more. Strange to say, the following salmon run was the greatest ever known, and many shafts remain until this day to attest to the truth of the legend. (Note the Portland Canal has no connection with the Nass River so why would it be blamed for a loss of salmon. The legend, as told to me by Ernie Lewis when we visited the location, was that two warring tribes acknowledged a peace treaty by firing their arrows into a small cave on the rock face. He had claimed to retrieve some of the arrowheads.)


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