Nang X̲aldangaas

Sasaa K‘iigee (Harlequin Ducks) at Nang Xáldangaas.

Graham Richard

At Tuuhlga, a village west of Yaan, people walked to Tl’agadiiyaa Hidden Island to collect ts’a.al Pacific silverweed, an important food plant. A stone with a red face growing on it lived in the centre of a lake behind the village. Many laughed at the stone as they passed, which was made to grow long in the sunshine. However, one waded out to the stone to sprinkle fresh water on it. She did this whenever they passed the stone on a sunny day.

During one stormy winter the people had no food. Conditions worsened until one went to Gwaay T’úuwans Striae Islands to collect skaay Sitka periwinkles. He brought back baskets full and divided the tiny snails between the people. They were so desperate to eat they paid him thanks with t’aaGuu copper shields and sea otter blankets.

Then the woman went to see the red-faced stone. It held a taaGun Spring salmon tail in its mouth. This she brought to the village and made broth for the people. The next day the red-faced stone held a whole taaGun, which they also shared. Thereafter she received gifts from the stone’s mouth day after day, including a xuud harbour seal tail, a whole xuud, a kun whale jaw, two kun jaws, and a kun tail. When the stone gifted her with a whole kun the people brought it in front of the village, rather than cutting it up right away. Finally, the stone provided another kun, which they put beside the first. Then she stopped visiting the stone, because the people were full. This was the youngest daughter of Kilxiigans Sounding Voice, the village’s hereditary leader. Her story continues from there. She brought it about that younger daughters are wiser than elder daughters.

Stones of Nang Xáldangaas continue to provide for us today. The area’s reefs and rocky shores are foundations for rich intertidal environments and kelp forests that support innumerable species. Its streams host sk’aga Coho, taayii Chum, ts’at’aan Pink, taadlaad Dolly varden, Rainbow trout and tak’aal Cutthroat trout. These enrich the area’s muskeg and old growth forests that are home to rare, endemic and beautiful medicines, plants, animals and fungi.

Nang Xáldangaas’ southern end borders neighbouring Gámdas Haida Heritage Site. From there it’s borders spread north covering Gaw Kaahlii’s western shore. They then stretch around Haida Gwaii’s northern coast until they reach the mouth of Needan Kaahlii.

Duuwan Kun Allan Point marks Nang Xáldangaas’ southern tip. Every day many thousands of tonnes of tidewaters rush inland to flood Gaw Kaahlii’s sound. Strong in-coming currents circulate nutrients for the many creatures that shelter in the waterway’s accompanying network of inlets and bays. Clamouring birds and schooling fish attract predators like Guud Bald eagles, sdads k’un Northern goshawk laingi subspecies, hlGuu Great blue heron and xaguu Pacific halibut.

As the tide turns, currents reverse. Gaw Kaahlii empties again, sweeping up another wave of nutrients, along with its complementary battalion of sea creatures. The inlet’s current-swept floor is covered with xaguu k’ujuus halibut houses. Each xaguu k’ujuus is home to hungry flatfish that snap at the morsels drifting by in currents. These fishing spots are owned and managed through the legal system ‘waahlGahl potlatch.

Further along thousands of migrating waterfowl and hungry shorebirds wade in wetlands sheltered behind Maasit Gwaayee Maast Island. Outflowing tidal currents run into a narrows, pouring over shallow banks thick with eelgrass. Here streams draining muskeg and old growth forests of k’aang Hemlock and ts’uu Western red cedar mix with the current, stewing terrestrial and marine nutrients together.

As outflowing waters pass from the narrows and around Sguhljuu Kún Rooney Point they meet another influx of fresh water at Kyaawan Gandlee Hancock River. This is the first of Nang Xáldangas’ three estuaries. Here juvenile fish take shelter in calm shallows before entering the cold seas beyond. As outflowing currents bend along the coast and depart for open seas estuaries intermingle with kelp forests. This unique marine ecosystem is recognized as an “internationally significant intertidal estuarine wetland complex”. This is a critical wetland habitat for waterfowl like st’aak‘aats’idGa Pacific brant, hiixuudaada Western grebe, ang.aang.ngii Long-tailed duck, s’aay Red-breasted merganser and k’yaaluu Pelagic cormorant.

Like these many other creatures of the Islands, we thrive from this abundance. Today many visit Nang Xáldangaas to catch salmon, halibut and cod; pick edible seaweed; gather k’aaw herring roe on kelp; dig up shellfish; collect seabird eggs; hunt marine mammals; dive for guuding.ngaay urchins; flush naaw octopus from dens; and pull chitons from rocks. Forests above rich shores provide monumental ts’uu, ts’uu kal cedar bark, xil medicinal plants and good hunting and trapping.

The natural wealth of Nang Xáldangaas supported a coastal metropolitan area, once busy with canoes. A procession of villages, with over ten known and recognized village sites, marks the coast. Gaw Tlagee Massett Inlet area became a bustling centre for coastal trade, where great canoe armadas set forth to potlatch, visit relatives, trade, raid and seek revenge on the mainland.

Over millennia archaeological features have concentrated here including culturally modified trees, lithics, fire broken rock, charcoal, shell middens, animal remains, cultural depressions, plank houses and bark strips. Old poles stand amongst bones of kuuniisii ancestors resting throughout forests. At Yaan a new gyaaGang monumental pole and naay longhouse stand in memory of this cultural abundance, and remind of what is soon to return again.

As these waters empty around Nang Xáldangaas’ northern edge the tremendous outflow clashes with north and westerly winds. The conflict comes to a head beyond Miiya Kún Seven Mile Point. The resulting turbulence contrasts the relative security of nearby Gaw Kaahlii, putting many mariners off-guard before throwing them into sudden disarray. The broader Haida Heritage Site takes its name from these waters, which are called Nang Xáldangaas Enslaved One.

Here pebble-covered and sandy beaches give way to dark, bare rock. Up until this point, the shoreline and the forests behind it rested on a wide foundation of mudstone, siltstone, and shale called the “Skonun Formation”. These deposits settled from eroded rock to ocean floors as recently as 1.6 million years ago. Then Nang Xáladangaas’ eastern portion was submerged beneath shallow, brackish waters. The Skonun Formation is among the youngest geological formations in Haida Gwaii.

Atop this, receding glaciers have scattered Pleistocene till and moraine deposits. Glaciers tore these large boulders from mountainsides and hoisted them ‘down-ice’ before lowering them to the ground as they melted. Today they lie indiscriminately scattered across not only sedimentary ground in eastern sections, but also across neighbouring fields of volcanic rock lying under northern and western sections.

The forests in these sections of Nang Xáldangaas grow atop ancient lava flows. Thin sheets of liquid iron- and magnesium-rich ore gushed from volcanic peaks protruding from the ocean 25-million years ago. These lava-flows quickly cooled upon contact with the open air, and in areas where waves have torn away sand and soil beautiful formations appear. These complex geological features serve as an intricate record of a time when this part of the Islands was still forming as a churning cauldron of lava. Now the lava forms the rocky reefs and banks that would make short work of the most imposing trade-going cedar canoes.

Rough geology combine with strong varying tides, winds, and waves to make this coastline dangerous to navigate. But we have done so for millennia with skill and knowledge aboard the canoes, rowboats and seiners they crafted.

In more recent history we harvested k’uust’an Dungeness crab aboard such boats and packaged them up in a nearby cannery. Fishing cabins covered the shoreline as people set out from Gaw to catch and preserve the year’s seafood. Today the Haida Gwaii Fisheries program maintains a camp at Sk’áaws George Point village site, located just within Needan Naden Harbour. From there, Haida Fisheries Guardians monitor summer fishing activity in the Nang Xáldangaas and neighbouring Duu Guusd Haida Heritage Site to the west.

 

Stat Sheet

Terrestrial component: 6,897 hectares

Marine component/foreshore area: 10,255 hectares

Elevation: 0 to 91 metres.

592 Monumentals

78 Yew

22 Bear Dens

433 HTFF2

110 HTFF1

29 Heritage Features

1490 CMTs

32 archaeological sites

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