British Columbia

First Nations man leads tours to sacred Bella Coola petroglyphs to share Indigenous culture

The rock carvings of images from the animal and supernatural worlds, which are located in Thorsen Creek in the Bella Coola Valley, are estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old

Rock carvings of animal and supernatural images are estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old

The petroglyphs, located in Thorsen Creek in the Bella Coola Valley, consist of images from the animal and supernatural worlds. (Grant Lawrence/CBC)

Almost every day Chris Nelson of the Nuxalk Nation in the Bella Coola Valley journeys to the top of a towering cliff in a rain forest to visit a collection of petroglyphs, rock carvings created by Indigenous people in the area thousands of years ago.

Nelson, who runs Copper Sun Journeys, an aboriginal owned and operated company, makes the trip to the sacred First Nations site in Thorsen Creek almost every day, whether or not he's leading a tour.

"It is very sacred to me," Nelson told North by Northwest guest host Grant Lawrence, who visited the petroglyphs with him recently.

Nelson said he believes the site was once used by “higher ranking societies” within the Indigenous population — societies such as the society of chiefs, mask dancers, doctors and elders. (Grant Lawrence/CBC)

"I go up there with my family at times and even winter months when there's snow, at night, midnight when the full moon is high in the sky. It is a very spiritual place and we do connect with the Creator that way."

Ancient carvings

The petroglyphs, which consist of images from the animal and supernatural worlds, have been estimated to be somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years old, Nelson said.

Nelson said he believes the site was once used by "higher ranking societies" within the Indigenous population — societies such as the society of chiefs, mask dancers, doctors and elders.

Before Chris Nelson enters the petroglyph site he sings a welcome song. (Grant Lawrence/CBC)

Those wanting to see the petroglyphs are recommended to visit with a local guide, which is why Nelson is protective of the site's exact location within Thorsen Creek.

Though Nelson is in his second year leading tours with Copper Sun Journeys, he said he has done tours since 2000 and intends to continue for years to come.

"A lot of people don't appreciate me sharing with the world the petroglyphs, but I do because I can tell the story about the First Nation point of view," Nelson said.

"So many times people have written in books, 'The people of the area believe this,' and they'll put whatever down that they want .... this allows me one-on-one [moments] with a lot of people throughout the world to share the knowledge."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest


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