The Gathering Place: A History of the Wet'suwet'en Village of Tse-kya
by Maureen Cassidy
Standing on the gently rolling hill in the midst of Tse-kya today and looking west into the jagged coast mountains with the haughty Rocher Deboule peaks looming to the left, it may be easy to forget that the village is named after, and owes its existence to, a rock in the river one thousand metres below. It might be even harder to know this since, improbably, the great rock is no longer here, having been purposely removed by others almost thirty years before.
As a person stands on the hill it is easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, arguably one of the most majestic locations in the region. The location though is more significant for the events which have happened here and for the people who have chosen to make it their home. This book tells the story of the strong and persistent people who live at Tse-Kya.
[The Wa Dzun Kwuh before the rock in the center was removed - approx. 1919 by T.W.S. Parsons]
[Old Village of Tse-kya located at the bottom of the canyon - approx. 1910]
The village name of Tse-kya signifies base of rock in the Wet'suwet'en language. It has also been call Hagwilget as its is known in Gitksan, meaning place of the quiet people. Tse-kya is located in central British Columbia about two hundred miles or three hundred twenty five kilometers inland from the coast. It and the area to the east and south comprise the territories of the Wet'suwet'en.
The location stands at the transition between the mild and wet coastal climate of the Skeena River valley and the drier, more extreme interior. The red cedar and hemlock which blanket the coastal mountains give way here to pine and spruce on the northern slopes and popular and willow on the southern.
The people who live in this countryside call themselves Wet'suwet'en, or people of the Wa Dzun Kwuh River. Their territories reach far to the south including Ootsa Lake, to the east to parts of Francois Lake, and to the Telkwa Pass and the headwaters of the Zymoetz River, as well as the basin of the Bulkley River.
The countryside through which the people traditionally journeyed when not at Tse-kya is mostly a great plateau, a country of gentle hills studded with lakes and radiant meadows of wild roses and waving peavine. The lakes hold an abundance of fish-trout and whitefish-and in the friendly forests roam deer, black bear and caribou. Strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, cranberries saskatoon's and soapberries all grow wild in abundance, aided in their growth in the past by the periodic burning of the patches by the people.
Up the Wa Dzun Kwuh, or Bulkley river as its is now known, swim the several species of salmon to spawn in the clear tributaries of the river to the east. The waters of the Wa Dzun Kwuh join with the Xsan, or Skeena River, just three miles or almost five kilometers down river from Tse-kya. THere a Gitksan village, Gitanmaax, is located. As the Waz Dzun Kwuh pours by Tse-kya its waters are constricted by the canyon there. The water seethes as if boiling, creating a cauldron in which fish could be caught easily.
Related by language and culture to the people of the interior of the continent, the Wet'suwet'en acted as the cutting edge of the interior cultures meeting with the coast cultures. As those of the interior who lived furthest to the west and next to the coast peoples, the Wet'suwet'en were the ones who learned what was desirable from the coast people and shared it with those further inland. In this manner, arrangements such as the clan system spread into the interior as well as the customs of the feast and carving of poles.
[A young Man struggling to carry dried fish from the canyon bottom to the upper level where the village is located today - approx. 1920 by T.W.S Parsons]
The Wet'suwet'en have always been learners. Working within their traditions, they have possessed the strength to be adaptable, always knowing who they are and how they best fit into the world around them. With their strength to adapt to the conditions around them, they have maintained and nurtured their own way of life.
Because of its location, the village of Tse-kya is, by nature, a meeting place. It is the place where coast meets interior, where different people traditionally met to trade goods and ideas, where many would come ever summer to fish and to feast. Its is the heart of a complex way of life. And the heart of the village was the rock.