The Museum of Northern B.C.

Na Xbissa Lagigyet (Treasure Box of the Ancient Ones)

Prince Rupert, BC

July 02, 2002

It never ceases to amaze me at the number of museums we find as we travel. It is wonderful to see how many people are interested in protecting the past for our future generations. As we have seen in far too many places once things are destroyed we can attempt to make copies or recreations but they are just not the same. The Museum of Northern BC located in Prince Rupert has done a great job, not only in preserving the things of the past, but in presenting them to the public in such a way as to make them interesting. We were told that we could either join a tour in progress, being given by one of the local natives, or take the tour on our own, utilizing an excellent brochure issued by the museum. We opted for the latter as we are used to going at our own pace. However, we were able to overhear some of what the young man (tour guide) was saying and it was obvious that not only was he very knowledgeable about his subject but proud of his heritage as well.
As we entered the new Museum of Northern B C we were
able to experience the magnificent architecture of a Northwest Coast longhouse. Here in the Great Hall we viewed exhibits that portray Northwest Coast history and culture dating back to the end of the last ice age. We were also able to witness the legacy of oral history, archaeological discoveries and unique artifacts that depict thousands of years of ancient life ways.
We then experienced the dramatic history of the more recent period, the new wealth and shifts in power of the fur trade, the heyday of railway construction, the intensification of the fishing industry and the legacy of
these ventures in the creation of modern day communities.
Na Xbissa Lagigyet means "Treasure Box of the Ancient Ones" in the language of the Tsimshian, the Northwest Coast nation on whose traditional land the Museum stands, but it also refers to the knowledge and wisdom of the old people and well describes the experience their heritage has to offer its many visitors. Unlike the white man the First Nation people did not have a written language. In order to pass on information about their people they made up stories using animals or birds for major characters. One of the most important characters in their story telling was the Raven. The Raven actually had two personalities. One was his Raven personality the other was a human personality. I was fascinated reading the story of how the Raven created the Earth. The First Nation elders were wise enough to understand that if their culture was to survive they had to make their stories easily understood
and interesting to both the teller and the listener. After reading a number of these stories it was evident, to me, that they certainly achieved their goal. Nowadays, the number of people living who can speak the various languages are diminishing. The people feel that they are in danger of losing their language and along with it their heritage. As a result several large groups of First Nation have undertaken the task of documenting the language from the elders and, in turn, teaching it to the younger generation. Unfortunately, many First Nation People who are middle age today were sent to missionary schools who would not allow them to speak their native tongue. In fact they were punished if heard doing so. Because of this there is an entire generation who cannot speak their native tongue at all. However, we saw people with a great deal of determination to make up for this, by studying at their local education centers such as the College attached to this museum.
Four other galleries, in addition to the Great Hall, enhance this experience. We viewed many works of Northwest Coast art in the Treasurers Gallery, the diverse cultures of other First
Nations in the region in the Hall of Nations, and exciting changing exhibits in the Monumental Gallery and the Ruth Harvey Art Gallery.
They had several examples of their basket weaving. They used several different mediums and methods but the work overall was excellent. Many of the patterns indicated something about the maker; such as, their tribe or their background.
The Museum of N.B.C. also offers a full range of season programming from May through to Sept. Daily tours of the Museum, performances of 'The Prince Rupert Story: An Evening of Drama', the Heritage Walking Tour and the Archaeological Harbor Tour all bring the history of the Northwest Coast region to life.
The Museum of Northern B.C. is located on the ocean front overlooking Prince Rupert. Harbor, and is easily accessible.

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!