Coming of Christianity

In 1888, government surveyors had appeared in Nisga’a territory near Gitlaxt’aamiks. “What’s that in your canoe?” asked Sim’oogit Israel Sgat’iin, pointing to survey equipment. The surveyors replied that they were going to give land to the Nisga’a. “How could you give us land that is already ours?” Chief Sgat’iin aimed his gun at the belly of the lead surveyor, took away their instruments, and sent them packing downstream.

By this time, the government of Canada was using its authority to assume control over the Nisga’a people by entering into partnership with Christian churches. In the Nass Valley, missionaries and federal Indian agents came to regard the resistance of the pdeek (tribes), wilp (houses), and simgigat (chiefs) as the most serious impediment to converting and “civilizing” Nisga’a people. Churchmen such as James B. McCullagh set up their missions along the riverbank to proclaim an uncompromising message: Accept the terms of the new religion and order or face eternal damnation. Nisga’a people were often coerced into giving up their regalia and possessions. Some gave up (or sold) these items freely, as a sign of good faith. Many items were destroyed. Some were sold willingly, or given as gifts. Some were kept by missionaries or sold to traders, who in turn sold them to museums and private collectors.

As for Chief Sgat’iin, he had little time for churchmen like McCullagh, an outsider who mockingly posed for the camera dressed as a Nisga’a halayt. “Once,” McCullagh recalled, “he sent a message to me to caution me not to say too much against heathen ways. I was but a leaf in this country, and he had only to blow with his mouth to send me flying back again to the sea!” Eventually, Christianity became an accepted part of Nisga'a spiritual life. Many of our own Nisga'a citizens are members of the Anglican clergy and Salvation Army. Some elders have described the teachings of Txeemsim as preparing the way for the reception of Christianity.

Today, Nisga’a traditional culture is widely practiced and Christianity is a part of Nisga’a spiritual life.

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