S<U>G</U>ang Gwaay
S<U>G</U>ang Gwaay
Cultural Canada Europe And North America Province Of British Columbia

The village of Ninstints (Nans Dins) is located on a small island off the west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), and it bears a unique testimony to the vanished civilization of the Haida Indians, a tribe living essentially from hunting and fishing in the archipelago.

The San Christoval Mountains form the backbone of Gwaii Haanas, rising to 1,123 m at Mount de la Touche. The higher elevations of this range are dominated by mountain hemlock and alpine tundra vegetation zones. The lower elevations are mainly cedar, pine and western hemlock. The hemlock-Sitka spruce zone is on the islands of the eastern part of Gwaii Haanas, including the eastern fringe of Moresby Island. The distinct island flora and fauna have evolved over thousands of years. The species here often differ from those found on the mainland. Many common continental species are not found on the islands at all, or have evolved into unique subspecies such as the black bear and pine marten (both larger than mainland cousins), deer mouse, dusky shrew and short-tailed weasel.

An estimated 1.5 million seabirds nest along some 4,700 km of shoreline on the islands from May to late August. Approximately half of these seabirds can be found in Gwaii Haanas. Many are burrow-nesters, such as the rhinoceros auklet, ancient murrelet, tufted puffin, horned puffin, Cassin's auklet, Leach's storm petrel and fork-tailed storm petrel. Because the islands are situated along the Pacific flyway, dozens of species of migrating birds stop here in spring and autumn.

The seas around Gwaii Haanas teem with life. These waters are home to salmon, herring, halibut, rockfish, mussels, crab, starfish, sea urchin and octopus, along with numerous other species. Haida Gwaii is also on the spring migration route of the grey whales which spend their summers in feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Killer whales (orcas), humpback and minke whales are also seen in the waters surrounding Gwaii Haanas, along with dolphins, porpoises and harbour seals.

The first traces of human occupation date back almost 2,000 years;the village was not deserted until shortly after 1880, when about 25 Indians still took up winter quarters there before leaving for summer hunting and fishing expeditions near Queen Charlotte Islands. A series of unit dwellings, cedar longhouses, still exists, of which 10 are in good condition. However, it is above all the 32 totemic and mortuary columns on the edge of the dwelling zone which contribute to the world renown of the site. These wooden columns, sculpted with stylized anthropo-zoomorphic figures, have suffered considerable erosion at the hands of nature.

More of the village has been taken by nature, consumed by age and the elements, and returned to the forest. What remains is unique in the world, a 19th-century Haida village where the ruins of ten houses and 32 memorial or mortuary poles bespeak the power and artistry of a rich and flamboyant society.

The Haida have always thrived on the wealth of both the sea and the forest. Shellfish and salmon were staple foods. Giant Western red cedars were the raw material of ocean-going canoes, vast post-and-plank houses, and great poles bearing both symbols of family history and holding inside them the bones of ancestors. The Haida lived on SGaang Gwaii for thousands of years.

Remains of houses, together with carved mortuary and memorial poles, illustrate the Haida people's art and way of life. The site commemorates the living culture of the Haida people and their relationship to the land and sea, and offers a visual key to their oral traditions. Gwaii Haanas is a protected area that contains the essence of the rugged beauty and ecological character of the Pacific coast. It is a celebration of more than 10,000 years of connection between land, sea and Haida culture.