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Eagles celebrate in a circle  - photo G. Wunderlich
COMMENTARY · 10th January 2010
Merv Ritchie
Welcome to the hidden treasure, the secret Canada has been hiding, a land and a people of quiet resolve and solemn thought. A political order of Chieftains run by the women of the Nations. An order headed by male Warriors selected by caretaking Matriarchs. A place of balance, where the male and female energies are respected equally with distinct roles. Where the land and animals share an equal footing with the men and women. Where all understand, without each other, without respect for all life, animate and inanimate, we are nothing. Welcome to the Sacred Circle.

The region is roughly confined to the British Columbia Regional District Boundaries of the Kitimat-Stikine-Skeena-Haida Gwaii Regional Districts. It is peopled by the ancient cultures of the Tsimshian, the Gitksan, the Haisla, the Tlinglit, the Nisga’a, the Tahltan, the Haida and others. All of these First Nations peoples shared their knowledge by telling stories. Passing the truth on from generation to generation, not by writing a book but by sharing so much time together, everyone knew what the truth was. There was no alternate reality, there was only one and they all lived it.

The Totems were the only written record. It was a record of a name, a word or sound that carried generations of understanding simply by the use of it. This name did not belong to a person. The name was and is its own entity; a life, an existence of knowledge, history and authority. The name was responsible for, and was the law of, the people and the territory. The male Chief who was granted the authority to carry the name became the guardian of the totem; the caretaker of the life within the boundaries of that authority. The Totems were carved to represent the authority of the name and the land; to record the story of achievements and loss for those who observed it.

Feasts Halls were the Government Buildings. When an authority needed to be established it required a ceremonial feast, a convention of gathered dignitaries. All attended and all knew their places. The leaders/Chiefs all received their places during feasts where all were gathered during a previous ceremonial feast. When a Chief was unable to continue in his capacity or if a Chief died, after a period of mourning the Matriarchs would select, from their lineage, who would be the next holder of the name. A feast would be held and the ceremony would recognize the new Male, from the female side, as their Chief, the holder of the name.

Only in this very unique region of planet Earth will you find this treasure. The tradition survives today though it is being threatened by many unfortunate historical events.

Unlike Indian/Aboriginal/First Nations/First Peoples of all other regions of British Columbia and even all of North America, these people were not nomadic and did not move with the animals or with the seasons. They built long standing communities and trade routes. Their territorial boundaries were set and those who challenged them were engaged in warfare. Treaties were made to ensure stability and nations provided goods and services to each other when the trade was determined to be mutually beneficial.

Just over one hundred years ago the inner sanctity of the Sacred Circle encountered a new adversary, which did not respect or understand the sacred traditions. The white man.


Imagine for a moment the Chinese Red Army taking over Canada. The Unitied States being unable to assist; their economy in tatters and their military GPS satellites out of commission, the Canadian Government falls completely. The Red Army is in charge of every city and forbids religious worship of any type in Canada seizing all the Churches and religious artifacts. They demand all children attend re-educational facilities. They are taken from their parents arms and the use of English or French is forbidden, in fact only Mandarin is permitted in Schools and in public. Those who are found communicating in another tongue are whipped and beaten. Two, three generations pass and English is becoming all but forgotten, most of the children now scorn the old people’s Christian God worship. Social disorder becomes rampant in the English communities that survive and the use of intoxicants, supplied by the Red Army, becomes a pandemic.

The Chinese, who have now become the majority population, scorn and ridicule the uncultured remnants of the Canadian population. After providing the Canadian people communal grounds to set up homes and after delivering basic rations for years they accuse the Canadians of complaining too much and not getting over the past wrongs. The Canadians claim many of the children taken have gone missing and many were murdered by the Chinese. The Chinese protest that they had nothing to do with the activities of their forefathers and the Canadians should just start working like the rest of the Chinese and pull their own weight. They allow the Canadians to practice Christianity again but few remember any of the stories and only a few weathered scraps of some bibles remain.

Only the oldest remember what the word ‘Sin’ meant and some speak about a flood but the context is lost. The rebellious young laugh at the elders who speak about heaven. Many of the elders have taken to the Chinese supplied intoxicants as they have not been able to get over the loss of their culture.


It was called a potlatch and it was outlawed. Many Totems were seized. The masks were stolen and sent over seas as ancient artifacts. The children were taken away so they could not be taught their truth; they were taught the English truth. Anyone daring to speak their Native tongue was beaten and some were killed. Many elders lost direction and hope. Their entire culture was being destroyed by an enemy so venomous every attempt at reconciliation was used against them. Alcohol was introduced to the region and the effect caused almost all to lose their last remnant of dignity. Sexually abusing every child became not just a purvey of the Church run residential schools but now father and grandfather began abusing their own children. Uncles and Nephews, Sons and Daughters, Moms selling their own for drugs and alcohol, nothing was sacred in the Sacred Circle.

Today it is ending.

The Canadian Government has started to recognize the wrong it perpetrated. Even in BC the Government is beginning to recognize the reality by changing the names of many regions. Queen Charlotte is now Haida Gwaii and the Georgia Straight is also now recognized by both Washington and the BC Government as 'The Salish Sea'. In most of Canada and North America the original native cultures of the past are all but forgotten. The Beothuk of Newfoundland were exterminated, hunted as animals by the first British and French settlers. It was sport hunting. Only one woman survived to tell and illustrate a portion of their past. The Interior and Plains have suffered hundreds of years of assimilation and decimation.

Here, in the Sacred Circle, only a few generations endured the cruelty of the recent past of the white settlers. The memories of their heritage, their culture, is still alive in hundreds of elders. Names continue to be passed on during Feasts. New Feast Halls are being built. New Totems are being carved.

It is a time to celebrate, a time to rejoice, a time to recognize the truth as it is. The land of the Great Bear Rain Forest, Haida Gwaii, The Khutzeymateen, the Stikine, the Nass Valley, the Sacred Head waters and the Spirit Bear.

A region where the environment is unspoiled by industrial pollution and where the rivers run clean and pure. Fish Farms are forbidden while the estuaries sparkle with spawning salmon and sunbathing Sea Lions. The Bears, Eagles and the Wolves share in the harvest along with the human residents who exalt their animal friends by naming families into clans; Raven, Eagle, Killer Whale, Wolf, Beaver and more.

A place where God can be found in every valley, every river and in every cloud.

Welcome to the Sacred Circle, the Land of Totems and Feast Halls.
Ancient Totems in the Gitksan Territory
Ancient Totems in the Gitksan Territory
A peaceful graze in the Sacred Circle - photo G. Wunderlich
A peaceful graze in the Sacred Circle - photo G. Wunderlich
Raven seen holding a grape like the Sun as in ancient descriptions and drawings - photo G. Wunderlich
Raven seen holding a grape like the Sun as in ancient descriptions and drawings - photo G. Wunderlich
A Map of Part of the Sacred Circle Region Territories Recognized by the BC Government
A Map of Part of the Sacred Circle Region Territories Recognized by the BC Government