Buffalo Spirit: Rod Robinson
In his own words. . .
I am the head chief of the (Nisga's) Eagle tribe; as well I am also a ordained deacon. As well, for the Nisga'a Nation, I have been appointed to be the ambassador and I'm also chairman of the keepers of the culture, loss and the perpetuation of our culture into the future. I am the chairman of that.
Today I would like to talk about culture and the basis for our culture is what I am standing beside right now, a very sacred stand...the white man call it the totem pole...
And the history that goes into the species of the wood that it is carved (from), it is the spiritual belief of my ancestors that this was the first tree... It proclaims the history of the Nisga'a Nation. It also proclaims the identity...This tree has many uses. They use it to weave baskets. They use it to make canoes. They also use it to make rope, as well as other equipment...They wove it into very small pieces to sun-dry the ooligans (small, oily fish). One of the things the Nisga'a is famous for is sun-drying the ooligans...
What you see in front of you now is the totem pole that proclaims who we are. It proclaims our history. And in the early days the first missionaries mistook this to be the symbols of deity and they campaigned against us using it further. In fact, it almost became extinct because of that.
They were told that in order for you to get to heaven you had to destroy all of this evidence, evidence of carvings that we worshipped. We do not worship this. We just revere it. We treasure it. It's valuable to us. It proclaims our history...
When (God) established the Nisga'a in the valley, he established four houses... There was four houses. The houses are what you see here (pointing to the totem pole). There's the killer whale, there's the raven, the frog, which I will describe as I go along here, and there's the eagle and then there's the wolf. The very foundation of our Nisga'a Nation is the bear right at the bottom.
So these four houses were established with powerful laws that run parallel to the Ten Commandments-thou shalt not kill, thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet-all of that is included in the laws of the Nisga'a Nation.
Now these have been in existence that predates the missionaries or the Europeans that came to our shores. So they have been in use. They continue to be in use. They will not disappear because we are part of the land. God gave us this land and this land I can describe; it's been described by the early missionaries as the valley of eternal bloom....
So one of the laws was to live in complete harmony with nature and nature will sustain you forever. That means here, these are our brothers. I'll tell you a story before I get into this, how our people continue to tell this, the importance of not molesting any part of God's creation... At one time, the river below us here, there was a bunch of young boys. They were catching salmon and they were putting on their backs little sticks coated with pitch and they were lighting it. And they used to laugh. They delighted in watching the salmon going up. And an old chief sitting in front of his smokehouse warned them, "You children, do not do that! You are going to anger the powerful being that created us, created all these animals. You're not supposed to do that. It's against our law. Something dreadful is going to happen." Shortly after that they heard a rumble. [About 200 years ago, two Nisga'a villages were destroyed by a powerful volcano.] That's when you seen the aftermath of the lava, the lava bed that you traveled through. There you see evidence of what happened at that point in time. That was their punishment for misusing part of God's creation.
So that's how strong our tribal laws, our cultural laws, are; that you must live in complete harmony with nature. We are not separate from nature. And so that's part of it. Now I will get into the story. Now when God placed the Nisga'a Nation in this valley here as I pointed out he created four houses. The first house is what I'm going to talk about now is the killer whale. Here is the killer whale. The killer whale proclaims to the world that I am responsible for the seas. I rule the oceans...Part of our territory is on the coast and that's the reason why one of our houses is the killer whale. That was established by God in the Nass Valley here. Now you see the fin, there will be a hole there. The story behind it is that the killer whales usually pass by just outside Prince Rupert, one of the little islands outside of Prince Rupert. This is where all of this happened. One of the chief's sons fell in and the killer whale took him away. So two years later the chief had a dream that his son was coming back. He dreamt about it that the killer whales were now coming back from migration and he was told in a dream that he will recognize his son. He will be returning with us and on his fin there will be a hole here. That's why you see on all the Nisga'a poles, they have a hole there. That's to identify the chief's son had come back. He did not come back as a human again. He came back as one of the killer whales...
The next one is the wolf. That's quite an interesting story behind it. It happened just across Prince Rupert harbor when this all happened to one of our tribes. ... They heard a howling for days on end. One of the chiefs asked one of his sub-chiefs to go across the harbor and see what's the matter with the wolf that he's howling all the time. And he went across and sure enough there was a wolf near the soil and he was in pain. So the sub-chief went to the wolf and the wolf did not attack him. In fact, the wolf was sort of begging him to help him. And the chief noticed there was a bone stuck in his mouth, the bone of a deer, and that was giving him a lot of pain.
So the sub-chief went and took the bone out and the wolf was very thankful and they communicated to each other and the wolf told him that from here on they ill keep him supplied with deer meat. And that is what happened. Day after day this wolf would howl and the chief would go across and all he had to do was pick up the meat. And that's part of the history of this wolf.
It's one of the houses that was given by God to the Nisga'a Nation
The raven...this bird warns the Nisga'a of impending doom. There's something about to happen or something has happened and you'll hear a message about it, that's the significance of this bird...the frog clan and they have two crests within that organization, and now I'm going to move down to the crest that represents me.
We're now coming down to the eagle. It is my crest. It stands for power of the air. This eagle most of the time talks to us and you can hear the talking and they also deliver certain messages to the Nisga'a Nation, and the other crest that's similar is the beaver. You see the beaver here and in its hand is a traditional stick that the beaver lives on.
So all these animals are dependent on each other to survive, just like us...and the next one is the bear, the other crest that goes with the bear is what I described further up there was the wolf crest. The wolf and the grizzly bear. There again, they have powerful stories behind it. Under our law, I'm just generalizing this, it's illegal for me to be telling about the history of this bear. Only those that belong in the tribe, the tribe of the grizzly, the brown bear and the wolf, they are the only ones that can tell this story. If I utter it, it will be illegal for me. As I say we have laws. We're not strangers to the laws. In fact, our laws are very strong. Stronger than the European concept of laws...
So that's the foundation of our culture. Our culture is still very strong. It can only remain strong as long as those Elders continue to pass this on to the younger generation. We have now written it. That's a department that I had. We did a land use and occupancy study and there's about eight volumes, very thick, nd all it talks about are our survival, our creation, how we survived the floods. Some of our forebearers were washed away way up into Alaska, up into your territory (Alberta). And they migrated back, back to here. Must have took about a century to get back here, but after they were washed away they found themselves back here.
There are many stories about it. In fact, a lot of crests were acquired enroute coming back to find the Nisga'a Nation again. Now everything that we have done, everything is still very strong. The philosophy of the Nisga'a Nation is still very strong.
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