Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic Site of Canada

History of Gitwangak Battle Hill

Gitwangak elders tell the story of the fierce warrior chief, 'Nekt, who used Battle Hill as a base to make raids against Nass River and coastal peoples for food, slaves, and control of lucrative trade routes. The Kitwankul Grease Trail, named for the candlefish (eulachon) oil that people packed along the Nass to the Skeena River, passed within sight of Battle Hill.

To defend the Battle Hill's refuge of houses, 'Nekt and his warriors hoisted huge spiked logs up the palisade walls and fastened them with cedar ropes. When the war horn signaled an enemy attack, the logs were rolled down to crush the invaders.

Artist's impression of fortified village on Battle Hill
Artist's impression of fortified village on Battle Hill
© Parks Canada

'Nekt wore armour made of a grizzly hide with pieces of slate glued to the inside, and carried a magical club called k'i'laa, "Strike-Only-Once."

Oral history related by the late Fred Johnson, chief Lelt, says 'Nekt was finally defeated when an arrow struck him in the back of his leg. When he fell to the ground, a Nisga'a warrior beheaded him. After 'Nekt's death, peace returned to the area. The Gitwangak people moved to Gitwangak Village, located 6 km to the south on the banks of the Skeena River. At some point the fort burned to the ground.

The totems of Gitwangak, located in this newer village, display crests relating 'Nekt's original flight from Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands), his exploits as a warrior, and his occupation of Battle Hill.

This pole depicts 'Nekt as an infant escaping from Haida Gwaii in a canoe with his mother and the severed head of his father.
© Parks Canada/Richard Inglis