My name is Richard Morgan. My Nisg̱a’a name is Goagyaehl, out of the house of Haym̓aas, and I am standing in front of the pole of Laay’, Sim’oogit Laay̓. It was originally raised in Gwinwoḵ.
Peculiar thing about this pole – it was raised about 1860 – when they were raising the pole, a big storm broke out and the pole fell right in front when they were erecting it. So all the people who were at the feast – the Gibuus, the Wolves, Eagles and Killerwhales – had to chip in for the re-erection of this pole.
It washed out about 1900 and it was from Gwinwoḵ. They re-raised the pole at Git-iks about somewhere between 1900. This pole washed out along with Sii Sbiguut’s pole which is still in Greenville right now and Gitx̱’un’s pole which is in Quebec City. Those three poles washed out but they never re-erected Sii Sbiguut’s pole, but they re-erected Gitx̱’un’s pole and Laay̓’s poles.
This pole along with Sganisim Sim’oogit’s pole and a Wolf pole that of Hlabikskw. The four poles were well over 60 feet, so it must have been the most impressive sight coming into Git-iks, because there seems to be only four poles there, but the four poles were well over sixty feet – masterpieces. The pole carved by Oyee – three poles carved by Oyee – Gitx̱’un’s pole, Sganisim Sim’oogit’s pole, and Hlabikskw’s pole. And Aqstaqhl who was murdered, he carved, seemed to have carved that one pole, Gitx̱’un’s pole. He died in a war in 1868 against the Ts’imsans, but he was quite a carver.
These totem poles sort of mark the record of our history of our origin stories. And we don’t have any paper to write our history on, so they put all our history on totem poles in order to identify the stories, the importance of house crest, why the house crest is.
Before I get into the story of the figures on this totem pole, I would like to tell the story of the chief that towns this totem pole, Sim’oogit Laay̓. After the migration from Alaska, they settled at a place called Gitx̱at’in. Gitx̱at’in means a ravine right from the mountain all the way down in front of the village. And a lot of salmon spawned there, so that’s where they lived. And [there were] mostly thornberry bushes there. So that’s how they earned their name, Gitlaxbanak.
So this chief had expanded quite a bit at Gitx̱at’in, and they made a village at Gitx̱at’in. They expanded quite a bit there, long houses there. So one time there was a shaman. He was dying, so he told his people, “When I die, I am going to come back as an owl. I’ll be sitting on a tree and I want you to capture me alive. If you capture me alive, you’ll win and I’ll be back to life again.”
Sure enough, when he died, a big owl was sitting on a tree – cottonwood tree – and young people climbed that tree and they tried to capture him. Every time they tried to catch him, the owl would say, “Guuhl naat, Guuhl naat.” [This] means grab me, grab me. And they got frozen. They couldn’t do anything. They can’t move. They had to take them down. So all the young men tried all night long to capture this owl but the same thing happened. Even the brave ladies tried, you know, try to capture him. It was becoming daylight, so the sun started to come over the mountain. And the big owl turned around and flew away, “Huut sim naat, Huut sim naat.”
And people escaped, but following that when they buried the shaman they cut the arms off, and the head, the body. They buried him different places all over the place, because they don’t want the spirit of the shaman to come back, so they separate the body. Even the stomach they put in a slough below the village, and every time there is a change of weather in the winter time, they could hear the loud whistling noise and they say the name of the shaman is Sisiiks. “Gahwat ahl Sisiiks as ho sim lax̱ ha.” because Sisiiks is screaming, you know the weather is going to change. So that’s what they did to the shaman.
Following that, people started dying. Think it’s smallpox, chicken pox. People started dying. They started burning them, burying them. They couldn’t keep up, so they started just throwing the bodies in the creek. That’s why the creek behind the village earned its name, “Boney Creek” kst’sip, so that’s where they put the bodies in there. The chief said, “We’re not going to survive living here, so we’ll move. Don’t take anything with you. Leave everything behind. Just what we have on our back we’ll wear. Take a bath and leave this village.” So that’s how Gitx̱at’in earned its name today. Its name is Lax̱galts’ap – it means “empty village”. The long houses [were] still there, but nobody lived there. So that’s how it earned its name.
After they moved from Lax̱galts’ap, they went to Anki’daa, and they moved further to a village above Ank’idaa. It’s called Gwinwoḵ. And that’s where he erected this pole, but the story I would like to tell about the chiefs’ positions years ago is that when a chief put up a big feast, they always put their nephew in front of them to show he is the next one in line. So that’s what they did. And then Sg̱at’iin from up the river – Ginsg̱ux, that’s where his village is – and he put up a big feast. And they sent the messengers all the way down the river, and he invited the people. And the people he invited followed the messenger back to the village where the feast is going to be.
So Sg̱at’iin put a big feast, and when they had the feast going, they went through all the rituals. The masks are dancing all night. The last part of the feast is the hunter dance, with a bow and arrow. While they were doing that, he turned around you know and shoot Sim’oogit Laay̓’s nephew right in the chest and they didn’t move. Nobody do anything and so nothing happens until everything is over.
So they took the remains and Laay̓ took the remains home. So he look for a way to revenge. So he went to the supernatural area just behind Greenville called nag̱ats’ag̱at. There’s a mountain face like this – looks like an eagle nose facing each other. That’s called nag̱ats’ag̱at. That’s where he lied when he was ready from fasting and going through all the rituals. So the supernatural after four days, the supernatural came to him and it looked like a person. You can almost see right through this person. This person start teaching him a song he’s going to use. That’s where they learn a lot of songs they are going to use, from the supernatural. So after they are ready, a goat came around – a real big mountain goat. He told them to take that goat and take it home and put up a feast. And [he] gets his house, his family, all what he went through. So he did took the mountain goat and called all his family. And started off telling his story, what his experience is. So after [he] told them, they practice. When he is ready he invite all the chiefs in the Nass, including Sg̱at’iin, and use the same system where the chiefs sit down and had a nephew sit in front of him.
Laay̓ go through all the rituals and mask dance and everything, and all of sudden there is a goat coming out and walking right against the wall. Everybody screamed, “Where is the great hunter? There’s a goat coming.” So finally a man came out. He practically just touched the floor, touch the ground. Just lift so light and start shooting at the mountain goat. And Sg̱at’iin already start crying. He knows what happening to his nephew. So while he was dancing, shooting at the mountain goat, he turned around and shoot Sg̱at’iin’s nephew. So that’s how he revenged.
Since then, the chiefs never reveal the person who is going to be next in line. They don’t put their nephews in front of them anymore. Those are the stories of Laay̓.
During the migration of Laay̓ from Alaska, Tlingit country, they encountered, while they were camping, a very nice day at one place. Forgot the name of the place, but we’ll write it down. A lot of salmon there. During the migration from Alaska, Tlingit country, and they come to a place called Akstaqhl [now Cape Fox]. There’s a lot of sockeye, a lot of fish there. They fished there on a real hot afternoon. This young fellow Gunas was swimming around at the edge of the beach, and all of the sudden a huge halibut came ashore and grabbed Gunas. Everybody got excited, you know, when they saw the huge halibut. They called for Supernatural Halibut and they called for Supernatural Eagle to help them. And the eagle [was] sitting right at the point, and the next thing you know, the eagle managed to get the halibut ashore and capture the halibut. And they cut the halibut open, but the body of Gunas, the remains of the body, [were] already decayed, so they sing a dirge song, funeral song about Gunas being captured alive by a halibut.
And as they [were] traveling, they encountered a huge man from under water. It has a tail of a salmon. It came up with huge spring salmons, huge seafood, a lot of seafood. They call it Hagwil̓ooḵ’. That’s a symbol you will see on the bent boxes. Anybody who is really aggressive, get a lot of food for families, they call them Hagwil̓ooḵ’.
So when they saw this one, the man under the water, you know, they run away. They don’t want this man to capture them and eat them. So that’s what this one is.
And the box there is sort of a casket. What they used as a casket years ago, when they burn a person or bury a person, they put them in a bent box. Make them sit in there and bury them. That box up there is pretty well carved. It had abalone shells in them. So that’s Sim’oogit Laay̓’s bent box.
There’s a beaver on top [that] is the Spirit Beaver. And they are having problems catching the Spirit Beaver. The beaver put a dam across the creek and they tried to catch the beaver. And what they did is they break the dam open in order to get them out of their houses.
So when the dam broke and the water went down and the beavers coming out of the houses, they come through the broken dam. So one huge beaver started singing a dirge song, funeral song, and they heard it. They adopt the dirge song to use. When a chief passes on or any other member of the family passes on, they sang this song. The huge Spirit Beaver knew that he was going to be captured and be killed, stabbed, so they sing that song. So that’s the one is sitting on top with a stick in his mouth called the Spirit Beaver.
So following that, a huge shark, black fish. They call it a Supernatural Hagwil lo’op. Supernatural fish. They encountered it. When they saw it, they took it as their crest. Every time we see faces on the Killerwhale, Raven or the Frog, it indicates human faces. It indicated they are supernatural. And there is a face missing.
Maybe 20 feet on top and right on top is where the Supernatural Eagle is sitting that tried to save the boy from the Supernatural Halibut. So that’s the story of Laay̓’s pole. I imagine there is more added to it.