“Come on ladies, I want to see those nice fires just a’ragin’,” hollered a woman in a small crowd gathered outside the Gitanmaax Hall near Hazelton last Friday.
Laughter rang out over the crackle of three fires lit by Gitxsan women, who chopped their own kindling and used birch bark to set them alight.
When the fires were hot, their male team members used the flames to heat the fluffiest golden fried bread, known as bannock, to impress the judging panel of elders.
“Not ready,” said one of the elders as she bit into one contestant’s offering, sending the cook back to the fire.
The competition was part of a celebration of Gitxsan culture organized collaboratively by the Office of Gitanmaax, the Gitksan Government Commission and the Sik-e-dakh community.
Demonstrations of beading, hide tanning, bark weaving, snowshoe making and traditional medicine were among the skills and crafts displayed by Gitxsan stallholders at the event.
A traditional lunch of burnt fish, cooked on the fires made for the fried bread competition, was also prepared for the event.
To make the dish, slabs of pre-smoked salmon were maneuvered over the flames until an oil sheen started to show on the flesh-side.
Office of Gitanmaax community safety planner said the event was about boldly showcasing Gitxsan culture, crafts and traditions.
“I’m not bringing it back, it’s still here, but what we’re trying to do is make it more visible again to the public because you know that with a lot of the colonial instruments a lot of our activities had to kind of go underground,” she said.
“Our spirituality was a big part of it, the way we conducted business was a big part of it, even going onto our territories and accessing our resources we were restricted from doing that so people just did it quietly.
“We want to just make it visible again because we shouldn’t be ashamed and we shouldn’t be afraid.”
Gitxsan woman Yvonne Lattie held a display of art work she created using a method known as “moose tufting.”
The art form, which Lattie learned from her daughter who lives in the Yukon, uses moose hair to create delicate depictions of flowers and bears.
She agreed that bringing people together to celebrate their skills was good for the community.
“To see them have a gathering like this where people all come together and show their different art and they share different skills and different abilities, it’s great,” she said.