'We've had a death almost every week:' Suspension bridge lit up to remember loved ones in Nisga'a village

It's a tradition to light up a 121-metre suspension bridge in a small Nisga'a village in northwest B.C. every winter  — and, this year, the organizer says she has a new understanding of why it matters.

The annual event started in 2013 following the death of 20-year-old Paulina Faith Robinson of Gitwinksihlkw, one of four Nisga'a villages in the Nass River Valley north of Terrace. 

"When she passed, we really felt the void, and nobody wanted to participate in the usual Christmas traditions," said Lena Griffin, who started the Light up Lisims event.  

"We decided to bring some light back in by putting lights on the bridge."

Submitted by Lena Griffin

Seven years on, members of the Gitwinksihlkw community and three surrounding villages continue to string up lights in memory of loved ones over the holiday season. 

"2019 has been difficult for the entire community in this Nisga'a nation," Griffin told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"We've had a death almost every week."

Her own father died in June. 

"As I put the lights on, I just thought of the sacredness of the lights and how him, and my aunts and uncles are smiling and encouraging us as a community," she said.

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Lighting up the bridge is a way for individuals to remember friends and family who are gone  — but it's also a way to bring the community together. 

About 60 people gathered at the bridge in Gitwinksihlkw over the weekend to string up lights, Griffin said. They stood in a circle to say a blessing together while thinking of their loved ones. 

"It's moments like that which bring a feeling of unity," said Griffin. 

"I really feel encouragement to be a little kinder, especially this season because we're all going through some kind of mourning. These nights are a reminder of that."