Alert Bay history


‘Namgis Bighouse, next to the world’s tallest totem pole


the front doors of the U’Mista Cultural Centre

As I mentioned in my first Alert Bay post, we learned, unfortunately for us, that the U’Mista Cultural Centre was closed for two reasons, one that it was now on the fall/winter schedule with a Monday closing, and secondly and more seriously because of a recent fire.

In our wanderings around the village, we came upon U’Mista with its stunning doorside panels. I’m sorry I did not get a good picture of the larger structure. Unable to go inside, I thus want to point out their excellent website which I’ve been studying several times. For starters, the meaning of U’Mista is enlightening:

In earlier days, people were sometimes taken captive by raiding parties. When they returned to their homes, either through payment of ransom or by a raid, they were said to have u’mista. The return of our treasures from distant museums is a form of u’mista.

Do have a look at the gorgeous masks in the collection.

I’m grateful for websites like this and that we had managed a visit to Quadra Island’s Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre with its similar masks and other works, their stories and their sad history with the arrival of the Europeans.

Here’s more about that history.

more Alert Bay



Above: details of just two sections of the World’s Tallest Totem Pole. The Totem Pole is comprised of a 163 Foot and a 10 Foot pole making it 173 feet tall. Unlike most Totem Poles, which are specific to a particular family, the figures on this pole represent some of the tribes of the Kwakwaka’wakw. (from the PDF about Alert Bay’s Totem Poles)



There are several totem poles located around the village and we visited quite a number, thanks to the map. It is fascinating how unique each is. Some are fairly recently created memorials placed in front of homes of the deceased. The above linked PDF document is certainly worth a read.

island hopping, day 3 Alert Bay

After a morning at Sointula, we took the ferry back to Port McNeill, then drove right back on it for the leg to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, about 40 minutes away. These ferry trips were a joy on another beautiful sunny day.

Our plan was to visit Alert Bay’s noted numerous totem poles and its U’mista Cultural Centre. Our first stop was at the visitor centre to get both print and verbal information and directions which were excellent. But also some bad news… the U’mista Cultural Centre was closed on Mondays! I felt very sorry that I had not rechecked the website concerning the fall and winter schedule change. We were also told that there had recently been a fire in one part of the museum so that part was closed for restoration work.

Still, we saw a lot in our afternoon there and took so many photos that I will have to show them over more than one post. Today’s focus is on the the island’s largest grouping of totem poles on the Namgis Burial Ground. Being sacred ground, viewers were requested to view these from the road, not a problem though I am grateful my husband captured some closer shots with his newer and more powerful camera.







We were given brochures which are very helpful in learning more about totem poles in general and Alert Bay’s in particular. One is available also as a PDF. I recommend the page “what is a totem pole?” Are these not amazing works of art and spirit?!

island hopping ’13, day 2








One reason we stayed at Campbell River the first night of our island hopping holiday was that we wanted to visit Quadra Island, a short ferry ride away. Some years ago when I was researching rock art around British Columbia, I had come across and written about Spirit in the Stone, a marvelous book by Joy Inglis, about the numerous First Nations petroglyphs on Quadra Island. It had been a longtime dream of mine to visit this island and its rock art, some about 3000 years old.

Our focus was to visit the museum and to see some of those stones that had been placed nearby. Photographing these were a challenge for the light was already too high and bright, so there was much processing needed, these ones being the best I could do. We did not have time to explore the whole island and visit other stones but hope to revisit again another time.

The top photo shows Ah-Wah-Qwa-Dzas, a gathering place on the shore in front of the museum. You can see Campbell River on the other side. We admired the displays inside the museum called the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre – the numerous masks and other fine arts and crafts, a longboat, many photos of the old longhouses and much about the early history and impacts (many quite devastating such as several deadly smallpox epidemics) of white man’s arrival to these coastal communities. I think our German visitors found it all enlightening and sometimes quite shocking. No photos were allowed. Please do read the museum’s interesting website for more information.

DNA study in BC

A groundbreaking genetic study led by a team of U.S. and Canadian anthropologists has traced a direct DNA link between the 5,500-year-old remains of an aboriginal woman found on a British Columbia island, a second set of ancient female bones from a nearby 2,500-year-old site and — most stunningly — a living Tsimshian woman from the Metlakatla First Nation, located close to both of the prehistoric burials along B.C.’s North Coast near the city of Prince Rupert.

The findings are the first of their kind to be generated using powerful new techniques to analyze the complete mitochondrial genome of the individuals studied, reconstructing a millennia-spanning line of maternal descent and providing remarkable new evidence of a people’s enduring occupation of a specific geographical area.

The scientific achievement is also seen to have significant implications for First Nations’ land claims and treaty rights, giving aboriginal groups a powerful new tool for demonstrating deep-rooted links between the present and hyper-distant past.

Read more in the Vancouver Sun. If unable to view as a non-subscriber, try the original source here. I had first seen this referenced in which has a link to what may be the original article.

To me, this is exciting and fascinating news. Imagine some day having this new DNA research technology available to anyone to find one’s own roots from thousands of years ago. I wonder where my maternal ancestors came from?

the Finnish language

This sounds most interesting to me. As a member of this organization, I am going to attend and will report back here afterwards. Everyone is welcome of course.
from Canadian Friends of Finland in British Columbia
Added 9:30 pm. Sunday 22nd April:

The lecture was excellent, very informative and fascinating. Ms Elg began in Finnish, so wonderful and rare now to my ear – then switched to English, with a Finnish accent. I often have trouble understanding accents, even Finnish ones but still I was able to catch most of the information along with the help of the slides of language charts and maps. A good turnout and lots of questions throughout and everyone most appreciative.

Ms Elg described the Finnish language program at the University of Washington, one of many universities around the world that teach Finnish as I found out earlier.

I am poorly versed in the academic study of language and its structure and terms so hope I explain this correctly. The Finnish language is ‘synthetic’ or mostly agglutinating as opposed to ‘analytic’. What that means is that It modifies and inflects the forms of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numerals and verbs, depending on their roles in the sentence. (thanks wikipedia). An interesting simple example she used was with the word:
talo – a house
talo/ssa – in a house
talo/ssa/ni – in my house
talo/ssa/ni/kin – in my house too (4 words)
So, one word replaces many words in the equivalent English and many other languages. Some words can be from 6 to 10 cases. Hungarian can have up to 24 cases!

The study of language can aid in the study of racial genetics. In the case of the Basque, they are a unique language and people unrelated to any other, never mixed. Not so with the Finns, it seems. They have lived in Finland up to 6000 years. Other peoples came in later at different times from east, southeast, south and west and blended genes and language, mostly along the coastal regions but not much in the north. (See more about the Finno-Ugric peoples in wikipedia.)

What I don’t understand is how the study of languge can determine its age. For example the oldest Finnish word kala (fish) is 6000 years old. Loan words have been dated to reveal the periods of movement by different groups into Finland. Very personal words like äiti (mother), which came from German less than 1000 years ago (a surprise to us all), reveal close relationships like marriage and children. Yet that word is not currently in the German language.

A brief mention was made of a controversial theory presented by Professor Emeritus Kalevi Wiik of the University of Turku in Finland. He argues that Finno-Ugrian languages may originally have been spoken by the whole of northern Europe, that it may be Europe’s oldest language. More about his theories here or his home page in Finnish.

So much more but I’ll leave it at that! No definitive answers but interesting food for thought on our language, where we came from and who we mixed with. This has been a wonderful addition to my readings over the years and to the numerous links, many in Finnish, which I’ve gathered here and there.

Sámi cultural heritage project


On a recent visit to Arkeo Net**, a Finnish portal for archaeological and prehistoric information, I found an interesting, informative and beautifully designed website: Recalling Ancestral Voices, concerning the repatriation of Sámi cultural heritage.

Recalling Ancestral Voices is a project dedicated to recording the material cultural heritage of the Sámi. The project was launched in April 2006 and will end in November 2007. In Finland, the Sámi Museum Siida is participating in the project, in Sweden, the Ájtte Museum in Sweden and Varanger Sámi Museum in Norway. The project is part of Interreg III, which is funded by the European Union.

The site is presented in Sámi, Finnish, Swedish and English, with detailed information about the project, the issue of repatriation common to all indigenous people, the people involved in the project, the artefacts and much more.

As some readers may know, I’ve been interested for quite some time in learning about this branch of the Finno-Ugric poeple so this is welcome information. Here are some related earlier posts:

the Sámi and the Siida Centre
about Baiki, the magazine about the Sámi in Alaska and North America
photographs of the Sámi by Pekka Antikainen 
some Sámi music
a Sámi and Inuit art exhibition, initiated by the Hamilton Art Gallery and now at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, both in Canada
and the North American Sámi culture and news blog Árran

(Image: Shaman drum, Sweden – from Ancestral Voices)

Later note: One small criticism though – I wish active links had been posted, such as to the various museums mentioned.
** no longer exists, sadly

the call of our past


A Poem of Origins

enter the tunnel
this cave of origins
this passageway
of dreams
going through…
the narrowing…
into the light knowing
our origins
and our evolving

-James B. Harrod, OriginsNet

I wrote about this fascinating site back in February. At that time I had copied this poem into my little notebook of quotes and interesting ephemera, and came across it again this morning. I just had to share it with you today, as I keep thinking about my deep fascination for my own origins, of the origins of the Finno-Ugrics, and of all humans. I’m understanding more and more that this is at the very root of my fascination and passion for the traces left behind by these early people on rocks and cave walls, in their sculptures, standing stones, dolmens, pottery, jewelry and so on. And this passion naturally translates into my own art work.

Aligning with these thoughts of mine, I also enjoyed Harrod’s notes about the meanings behind this search for origins, such as this one:

“Origins” means the fons et origo, the fountain, the source, the waters of life, the depths, the springs of the creative process, our religious, spiritual and creative imagination, both collective and individual and in all living beings.

Ancient Human Footprints


This is a fascinating discovery:

About 20,000 years ago, humans trekked along the margins of a shallow lake in Australia, leaving behind records of their passage in the soft, wet sand.

In 2003, an aboriginal woman who is likely a descendant of those early Australians stumbled across dozens of timeworn footprints in the same area. Excavations of the site have since uncovered hundreds more.

The discovery, detailed in a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, represents the largest collection of Pleistocene human footprints in the world, and the only footprints from that era ever found in Australia. In total, 457 footprints have now been uncovered.

Humans weren’t the only ones that passed through the area. The prints from two kangaroo hind paws are visible, as are the tracks of a baby emu, a large flightless bird similar to an ostrich.

PHOTO above: Some of the footprints are so detailed that toe impressions can be made out. Credit: M. Cupper, S. Webb, R. Robbins

Read more at LiveScience. Found at Zinken.

the human journey


I’ve been happily lost in my travels through the pages of the Atlas of the Human Journey. I’m always fascinated to learn more about the amazing migration of humans from Africa to all the far corners of the earth. Clicking on “Journey Highlights” on the lower right hand corner brings up a long list of different cultures, languages, anthropology and archaeological sites with some history or other interesting bits of information. The mention of some yet unproven theories on how some peoples arrived where they did reveals how much is still unknown. The Saami culture and other more obscure ones are even on the list, something you don’t often see in these kind of broad studies.

As most readers know, a great deal of new information has been recently discovered through the modern science of genetics. So, this site happens to be a part of the Genographic Project. Read the fascinating information here about DNA and genetic markers. I’m rather tempted to order the kit and send in some of my DNA and find out where the Finns came from! I’m also intrigued by some claims (elsewhere) that the Finnish language and genes may be as authentic, ancient and unique as that of the Basques.

The image above is of a Gravettian period (22,000 to 28,000 years ago) cave painting in the Czech Republic, photo by Kenneth Garrett, captured from this site.