GITGA'AT HISTORY


The ancestors of the present Gitga’at people lived at their ancestral home Laxgal’tsap (Old Town) in Kitkiata Inlet, on the northwest side of the Douglas Channel. These early Gitga’at lived in Laxgal’tsap during the winter months, but used several other village and camp sites in Douglas Channel, Whale Channel, Wright Sound, Lewis Pass and Camaano Sound throughout the warmer seasons. Another ancestral group, the Gitn’oogad’x, occupied a large area encompassing Aristazabal, Campania, Princess Royal and other nearby islands.

The first contact between the Gitga’at and the Europeans was with the fur traders who came in sailing ships in the 1780s. The Hudson Bay Company arrived in the 1830s, later building Fort Simpson at Lax Kw'alaams and Fort McLoughlin at Waglisla. The Gitga’at travelled by canoe to trade at both forts.

Gitga’at’s relationship with the Europeans was largely economic until the arrival of missionaries William Duncan and Thomas Crosby. The Gitga’at joined William Duncan in the newly established Christian community in Metlakatla during the 1870s. They did not abandon their territory, however and returned seasonally to harvest the fish, berries and other resources, maintaining their ties to the land.

Things went well in Metlakatla until the 1880s, but a split in the community in 1887 caused Duncan and many of his followers to move and establish a new Metlakatla community in Alaska.

Some of the Gitga'at people made the migration north, but not all. 27 people returned home, but did not settle in their old village. They decided instead to begin a new community at Txalgiu which had recently been named Hartley Bay by British surveyors. They also built at Txalgiu for practical reasons – it was closer to the Inside Passage, and had better access to new coastal transportations routes for ships travelling up and down the coast.

While Gitga’at social and cultural life was altered by the influence of European missionaries, the community retained many traditional customs and continued to occupy and use different village sites, camps and areas throughout their Territory to pursue seasonal fishing and resource use activity.

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