ANCIENT VILLAGES AND TOTEM POLES OF THE NISG̱A'A

Totems

Crest identification
Identify 4 crests that appear often in Nisga’a totem poles. Read the stories that apply to each of the 4 crests, and reasons why a Nisga’a tribe represented by each crest might have chosen that crest. If you had a choice of one of the 4 crests, which would you think best represents your family? Explain your choice.
 
Crest meaning
Select the totem that most interests you. Identify its symbols, and research the meaning represented by each symbol/crest. Represent your interpretation of the ‘story’ of the totem or how you ‘read’ the totem, recognizing that totems cannot be read like a book (Wherry, 1974). Compare your representation of your ‘reading’ of the totem to a representation from a relevant Nisga’a source. Identify and try to explain similarities and differences in representations. Share one insight that you gained from this experience that you would like others to understand.
 
Moral lessons
Analyse the totem crest stories for potential moral lessons about behaviours that are in harmony with the natural world. Select one crest story and infer from it a moral ‘lesson’ about how to live in harmony with the world. Recall or find a parallel moral story in non-First Nation literature. Reflect on the benefits and limitations of learning how one can be in the world through a story. How might you use this approach to help strengthen relationships between people and the environment?

Village totems
Identify 2 or more villages for study. For each village, observe closely its totems and read the accounts provided for each totem. Use a graphic organizer to help you record information about the totems in each village; their crests, stories of crests, clan they represent, purposes of the poles, what happened to the poles, and so on. Using observations recorded on your graphic organizer, identify similarities and differences across your selected villages. Use what you learned to help you figure out the nature of relationships among people in your selected villages (e.g., if people in each village are members of the same clan—they are not allowed to marry). Reflect on how plausible you think your conclusions are. Check your conclusions with other information on this website, and beyond. Identify and share one important insight you gained from this activity.

Making inferences
Infer from what you learned in your study of the totems and village life the significance of the totems to the Nisga’a people. Explain your reasons for your response. Now consider carefully how the loss of the totems would have impacted the Nisga’a people’s ways of life. Show your ideas graphically so you may share them with others. Use the information on this website, and/or interview members of the Nisga’a people to find out if they do or would agree with your response.

Toward empathy
Imagine and describe your responses (thoughts and feelings) to having your family totem cut down during the Christian revival period. Represent your responses in one or more genres (e.g., poem, mural, story board, song, role play, video, etc.…). Aim for plausibility and an emotive connection with your intended audience.

Totem restoration
Inquire into what you can about what was done in the past, and is being done more recently, to protect/restore the totems. If feasible, collaborate with members of the Nisga’a people (or using ideas that have acceptance of members of the Nisga’a First Nation), generate ideas to help protect/restore the totems. Select one idea that you think has potential to effectively make a positive difference to the future of the Nisga’a people. If feasible, make plans and put the idea into action. Monitor actions and make changes as needed to enhance prospects for success. Share your efforts and invite others to join you.

Resources

Books:

Shared Learnings: Integrating BC Aboriginal Content K-10 (1998). Victoria, BC: Aboriginal Education Initiative, BC Ministry of Education

Marlena Dolan (Editor) (1994). Just Talking About Ourselves, Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 (Vol. 2 out of print). Penticton, BC: Theytus. (Moving poems, short stories, essays, and art by First Nations youths, ages 10 to 21 years, about issues relevant to all First Nations people)

First Nations: The Circle Unbroken Series, Volumes 1-7 (1993-1998). Vancouver, BC: National Film Board. (video tapes and teacher guides)

Websites:

School District No. 92 (Nisga’a):
http://nisgaa.bc.ca

Contacts:

Your local School District First Nation Education Coordinator

Your school’s Aboriginal Support Worker

School District No 92: Regarding resources—250-633-2234 (e.g., Nisga’a: People of the Nass River (grades 11-12); Grade 10 interdisciplinary kit; From Time before memory: The people of K’amligihahlhaahl (bilingual, Nisga’a & English); As long as the rivers flow, Grades 8-10)