Nisga’a village honours lost loved ones with dazzling holiday light display

‘The lights are to remind us that our loved ones are here with us,’ says Light Up Lisims organizer Lena Griffin

Every year, one Nisga’a community decorates their suspension bridge with Christmas lights for the holidays and honours lost loved ones by placing memorial photos on it.

Lena Griffin, one of the organizers, shares the importance of the event known as Light Up Lisims.

“Light Up Lisims behind us is a beautiful tribute to remember loved ones who have passed on,” Griffin said.

“During the holidays seasons, it’s difficult for us all who have lost someone, so the lights are to remind us that our loved ones are here with us.”

Light Up Lisims organizers Connie Azak, Lena Griffin and Tanya Azak standing on from Gitwinksihlkw Suspension Bridge. Photo: Lee Wilson/APTN

The Nisga’a village of Gitwinksihlkw has lit up their suspension bridge every year since 2013. The bridge is covered with lights and hundreds of photos loved ones who have passed away.

Thanks to support from all across British Columbia, it was their biggest event to date.

Tanya Azak has been volunteering since the start. She says they wanted to lift spirits after a death in the community.

“We wanted to do something special for the community. That year, we had a loss in our community,” said Azak. “We wanted to do something to lighten up the mood and get into the Christmas spirit and support our loved ones.”

Connie Azak grew up in the community, and when she heard of the plans, she wanted to be a part of bringing everybody together.

“It’s so pure in thought and feeling, and it’s selfless. It’s a beautiful way to bring our people together in the darkest times and especially now.”

Gitwinksihlkw Suspension Bridge decorated with lights and memorial photos. Photo: Wilson/APTN

Connie Azak is a researcher and says this bridge was built in in 1969.

For 400 years, a suspension bridge was the only way you could access the Nisga’a village of Gitwinksihlkw other than boat.

There is now a modern bridge over the Nass River to drive there.

“This year was our biggest event ever. We had at least 100 people here,” said Griffin.

“Gitwinksihlkw Salvation Army had their food truck, and they had hot food and hot chocolate, and we had our elders do the plug-in, and an elder do a story about bridge.”

Light up Lisims says their community page has grown to 1,700 members.

Light Up Lisims
Light Up Lisims decorated Gitwinksihlkw Suspension Bridge in the evening. Photo: Wilson/APTN

Family members submit photos, then volunteers print, laminate and place the photos on the bridge.

Griffin says there are photos of lost loved ones from all four Nisga’a villages, but they have had submissions from all around B.C.

There are also four pictures of pets memorialized on the bridge. Donations and community support allow the project to continue to grow.

Words of encouragement and social media posts of families on the bridge get posted online to the group’s page.

Organizers are working towards having Light up Lisims becoming an official organization to keep the community event going for years to come.

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