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Historic KSAN Indian Village

‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum (‘Ksan) is a cultural centre dedicated to illustrating the richness of Gitxsan culture and history. During the past forty-nine years ‘Ksan has maintained this mandate, and also provided economic opportunities for First Nations people of the Upper Skeena River region. In order to demonstrate ‘Ksan’s commitment to public education, this report will review the history of ‘Ksan from its earliest beginnings to the contemporary. Three subheadings will be used to organize this presentation and they are Skeena Treasure House, ‘Ksan Indian Village, and’ Ksan Historical Village and Museum.
Skeena Treasure House
The Skeena Treasure House (Treasure House) was Hazelton’s first museum. Here, “delicate and decomposing” artifacts of Gitxsan material culture were stored and displayed to the public from 1959 to 1969. The topic of this section is to document the development of the Skeena Treasure House from its conception to the transformation of the facility into the ‘Ksan Historic Indian Village in 1970. By accomplishing this review the fundamental importance of this original museum to the development of ‘Ksan will be delineated.
During the 1940’s, the concept of a local museum to house and display delicate Gitxsan antiquities and contemporary material culture emerged. Later, in 1950, the Board of Trustees for the Hazelton Public Library began planning for the proposed museum. The Board of Trustees was lead by then Hazelton Mayor Margaret (“Polly”) Sargent. Simoigyet Gamlaxyelt, Albert Douse of Kitwancool and Simoigyet Hanamuuxw, Jeffery Johnson of Gitanmaax, along with other members of the library association aided in the planning for the future museum.
The library association, besides being interested in heritage conservation, was also concerned with contemporary social issues of the area. During this time, Hazelton was a low-income, split population of Gitxsan and non-Gitxsan residents. This mixed populace created racial social issues damaging to the community. Development for the museum was directed by the fundamental principle that the economic and social problems of Hazelton would diminish if all people, both First Nations and non-First Nations, understood the stature and richness of Gitxsan culture. The museum, therefore, would operate as a cultural interpretive centre for local residents and tourists alike. The facility would also offer a venue for local artists and crafts persons to sell their traditional arts and crafts. Thus, creating revenue for individuals and the local economy.
In the beginning, because of financial limitations, progress on the museum project was slow. Hazelton had only a limited tax base of 432 residents and, thus, could not provide exclusive support for the project. During this early period, members of the library association began researching museum administration, operation, and Gitxsan history and culture. In continuation, the library association, in appreciation of Gitxsan beliefs, had no intention of buying “artifacts” for the museum’s collection. Instead, the museum would obtain articles on loan from their owners with the understanding that the entrusted items could be removed at any time. The museum would act as a safe depository for precious items owned by chiefs and their House. To follow this concept, Simiogyet Hanamuuxw, Jeffery Johnson created the name “Skeena Treasure House”. Johnson felt that the term “museum” implied collections of lifeless and unused items. To embody the concept of the museum as being a safe depository, the library association adopted this name.
In 1958 as part of the Centennial celebrations the provincial government made “cost sharing” grants available for community projects. This grant coupled with 10, 000 dollars collected locally enabled the creation of an organization separate from the library. This new organization was known as the “Skeena Treasure House Association”. The association was dedicated to continuing the planning and development of the museum project. With the funding from the provincial government and local supporters, progress on the house advanced quickly.
Construction on the Skeena Treasure House began within the same year and was completed in 1959. Architect William Henry Birmingham along with Design Associate Fred Thorton Hollingsworth designed the building to model after a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse. The Treasure House was located on the banks of the Skeena River in Hazelton at the intersection of Omenica and Government Streets. Accompanying the building, a freestanding totem pole belonging to the house of Gyet’m Galdoo was re-located to the museum site soon after the house’s completion. The pole was originally located nearby in the village of Gitanmaax. Two additional house post totems, carved by Simigyet Hanamuuxw, Jeffery Johnson were later added to the building on June 4th, 1960.
From its opening the Skeena Treasure House was a success. Under the curatorship of Flora Martin, the Treasure House operated a small library in the back and museum in front. The house also displayed and sold hand made arts and crafts from local artists and craft persons. Louise Joseph a “Carrier” (Denii) from Hagwilget along with other artists/crafts persons sold their works at the museum. As the Treasure House’s fame spread, anthropologists and other informed guests began visiting the museum. The increasing demands placed on the house by visitation and sales began over exceeding its capabilities. The small self-sufficient Treasure House would have to develop larger facilities to accommodate its popularity.
Instead of constructing a single larger building, the Treasure House Association developed plans for an entire replicated Gitxsan Village. Initially devised to be a “type of Indian Barkerville”, the association named the project after the Gitxsan word for the Skeena River – ‘Ksan. During the construction of the new ‘Ksan facility in 1969, the Skeena Treasure House was relocated to the new village site at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers. The Skeena Treasure House would again house and display Gitxsan antiquities and material culture for local residents and visiting tourists.