The Skii km Lax Ha are matrilineal descendants of the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut people. The Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut are a self-governing people who exclusively occupied and effectively controlled the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha territory at the time of European contact and assertion of Crown sovereignty. “Laxwiiyip” literally means “of large flat ground” and is thus, at its root, a geographical term. It was used, by extension, to refer to the Tsetsaut people living at Laxwiiyip, who were the ancestors of the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation. Thus Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha territory may also be referred to as “Laxwiiyip”. The territorial boundaries are described below.
Historically, the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut were divided into exogamous Raven and Wolf Clans. That is, in accordance with Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut traditions, marriage was not permitted between members of the same Clan: Ravens and Wolves intermarried. Some oral histories refer also to a Tsetsaut Eagle Clan, perhaps an offshoot or subgroup of the Wolf Clan, who may also have been on Laxwiiyip prior to European contact. Throughout the 19th Century, certain Tsetsaut Wolf and Eagle groups migrated southward along the Unuk River, the Behm Channel, and the Portland Canal, eventually settling among and identifying with the Nisga’a, among whom their descendants now reside. Members of the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation are the sole remaining Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut descendants to continue to identify with their Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut origins.
Our land base is deeply connected to our identity. The Tsetsaut/Skii Km Lax Ha Nation’s territory includes parts of the Nass River, Bell-Irving River, Meziadin River, Skeena River, Bear River and Stikine River watersheds in northwestern British Columbia. The eastern boundary of the territory runs from the Klappan River drainage in the North, down the height of land on the east side of the Skeena River to the Kluatantan River, follows the Skeena River southeast to the Duti River, and then along the height of land on the east side of the Slowmaldo Moutain range and Blackwater (Damdochax) Lake. The boundary continues along the height of land between the Nass and Skeena watersheds south to the divide of the Kispiox and Nass Rivers and carries along further southeast to the Cranberry River, and includes Canyon Lake, Sallysout Creek, Mount Skuyhill, Kwinageese Lake, and Brown Bear Lake.
The southern boundary of Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation’s territory runs southwest from Brown Bear Lake along the height of land to Octopus Lake, along Aluk Creek to the confluence of Aluk Creek and the Cranberry River, then along the Cranberry River to the confluence of the Cranberry and Nass Rivers. From the confluence of the Cranberry and Nass Rivers, the southwestern boundary crosses the Nass River and runs along the height of land to to Scrub Lake, then follows the height of land to the west between the White and Kinskuch Rivers, to include the White River watershed. This boundary continues northwest over the Cambria Icefield to the Alaska-Canada border, and along the Alaska-Canada border to the upper Unuk River watershed.
From the upper Unuk River watershed, the northwest boundary runs between the Unuk and Stikine River watersheds, and then along the height of land dividing the Iskut/Stikine and Bell-Irving watersheds to Tumeka Lake, to include all of the Bowser River, Bowser Lake Valley, and Bowser Lake watershed, as well as Awiijii and Mount Skowill. From Tumeka Lake, the northern boundary runs east to meet up with the Klappan River drainage, including Mount Gunanoot and parts of the headwaters of the Nass and Skeena Rivers.
Historically, the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut, the ancestors of the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation, organized ourselves through extensive kinship relations. Within these kinship relations, the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut organized ourselves by more closely related matrilineal family units. The Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut lived together as a broader social, political and economic community. Through our extensive kinship relations, the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut shared, between and amongst each other, common territory, resources, language, traditions, customs and a collective identity. The head of each matrilineal line directed the use of hunting and gathering territories. Important features of the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut social system include oral history, totem poles and song, each of which reinforces a common understanding of our history, our territorial boundaries, status and names.
Oral histories of the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut and other First Nations describe the origins and connections governing Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut rights, responsibilities and relationships, including those pertaining to the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation’s territory and resources.
Totem poles of the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut and other First Nations also provide an account of our history, and confirm Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation’s title to our land, water and resources. In particular, the totem pole of Skii km Lax Ha and Gyetem Galdo in Hazelton narrates the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation’s history and title.
In the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut tradition, feasting ceremonies have been a means of legitimizing business, social and political decisions, including the passing of names and territory through the matriline. The feasting ceremony is a traditional gathering that was the primary means to bear witness, and confirm in public any changes in status such as marriages, births, deaths or coming of age. Today, feasts are still important to our heritage and a large part of the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation’s culture.