Haida Gwaii

HAIDA GWAII, JUNE 10-25 2012





JOINT REVIEW PANEL                 

HAIDA GWAII PRIDE                                 



HAIDA GOVERNMENT                            

MY FEELINGS                                            



Photo album link:



PLACES – in no particular order

The ferry arrived in Skidegate at 6 a.m. Monday morning, way before anyone was up or anything was open. I remembered to buy a cup of coffee on the ferry before disembarking, and drove around for a couple of hours before arriving at the Vogan’s place, ”Serenity Now,” in Tlell. (Bolding indicates there’s a photo in the album.) All nice, green, clean. Tlell is approximately half-way between Queen Charlotte at the southern end of Graham Island and Masset at the north, so was a great location from which to travel in both directions.

My first walk, after coffee and conversation with Peter, was to the beach, where everyone seeks agates. It’s not altogether smooth or effortless; there are stretches of sand, small pebbles, and larger rocks to walk on. I was happy to return on the paved road! An astounding number of eagles were on the beach: big black-and-white ones, lots of juveniles, in two cases one bird keeping control of a large fish while others hung about, hoping to share. There were eagle feathers on the beach. I come from the Prairies, where eagles are almost always “escorted” by ravens who are in turn harassed by songbirds; here, I have yet to see a gull, and assume they’re scared off by the eagles.

On my second day, I went to the Haida Heritage Centre, Kaay Llnagaay (http://www.haidaheritagecentre.com/). Josh, our guide, explained the poles. Six of them were erected at the site in 2001, all in one week, each one in a day. Each honors one of the communities that was amalgamated into Skidegate (and Masset?) as a result of the smallpox epidemics of the early 20th century. [Here’s a great account of the poles: Lordon, Ian (2000). Drawing connections. In Spruce Roots Magazine, September/October 2000 http://www.spruceroots.org/SeptOct.00/Qay.html]. Josh speaks his language – though not fluently – and has worked at the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP). He took a year of criminology and planned to go into the RCMP (along with several of his peers), but then he made a presentation at the Pipeline Inquiry, and several people said he should take on a political role. He told me that the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel hearings would be at the George Brown Recreation Centre for two days. “Would it be OK for me to attend?” I asked. It would be great!

I went for the 1 ½ hour Spirit Lake Walk another morning; it only took me 2 hours! I halted often to seek out birds, including the hermit thrush, mountain bluebird, Steller’s jay, red-breasted sapsucker, and the dark-eyed junco.

Wiggins Road is in Tlell, home to a number of artists at Sitka Studios, the Crystal Cabin with jewelry, and Ernie Burnett’s wood-carving. Ernie builds beautiful carved boxes, trays, plates and placques mostly of cedar cut long ago. He uses many Haida designs, and geometric ones reminiscent of Raven’s Tail weaving. I saw a box fetch a really substantial price at Queen Charlotte Hospital Days silent auction!

After spending all day the 14th at the Northern Pipeline hearings, I stopped on the way home to walk on Jungle Beach – a great, long, sandy, walking and swimming beach. I find it hard to walk on rocks; this was far easier. At the entrance to the beach is a chainsaw carved black bear, by Dick Bellis; at the parking lot is a spiral staircase of stackwood construction, likely made by Netonia Yalte (see article and images in “Queen of the Stackwall,” by Susan Musgrave, at http://www.daycreek.com/dc/html/netonia_yalte.htm)

Just as the Village (once “City”) of Queen Charlotte is called “Charlotte,” Port Clements is called “Port.” And one doesn’t get things (e.g. gas) “in” Port, but “at” Port. It’s a nice little one-time forestry town of a few hundred inhabitants. As recommended, I went to the grocery store first. I spoke w/ a young woman whose mother owns it. She is a student at VIU (Vancouver Island University, in Nanaimo) and works here in the summer. She’s very proud of the grocery store and the produce they bring in. I noted the Nestle’s Turkish Delight dipped in chocolate. I haven’t seen it in so long I almost bought some, even though I don’t actually like it! There are good fruits and vegetables, cheese and milk, meat, cereals, nuts and trail mix, cleaning supplies – just about everything, including wine. Prices are high, but not exhorbitant. I paid more on Haida Gwaii for a tank of gas than I think I’ve ever paid, but considerably less for wine! Harmonie’s Café serves great soup and (I heard other customers say) hamburgers. She came here as a tree planter.

Queen Charlotte reminds me of the towns of southern Chile. Houses on steep hillsides overlook the port: lots of rain, lots of vegetation, lots of wooden construction, often unpainted. It lacks only wild fuschias. I went to see a campground and found a cemetery. A fresh eagle feather sat on one grave. There were a number of WWII casualties, always recognizable because they’re in tidy rows.

In Masset there is a very moss-covered cemetery, close to the wildlife observatory. One grave was piled with agates and scallop shells. Masset had a military base from World War II until the 1990s. Other elements that stand out to me are the abandoned military buildings and the beautiful Co-op store! There is also the Entrance to the Dixon Inlet Maritime Museum, dedicated mostly to maritime topics (!), just as the Port Clements Museum is mostly about forestry. The volunteer at the museum in Masset was a Filipina woman who came here – must be over 25 years ago – with her Canadian husband – military? He and her sons are fishermen, though she gets seasick!

Between Masset and Massett there is a kilometre or two of paved walkway (and road) lined with salmonberry bushes. Many people walk it, passing the hospital on the way. Old Massett consists primarily of roads paralleling the water. There are poles in front of most public buildings and some homes, as in Skidegate. Each is there for many reasons, honoring and remembering people, showcasing the skills and hard work of artists and artisans, and embodying reams of meaning, history and relationships. Flying overhead and on the beach are countless eagles. I came to a place on a wall above a beach below which were many eagles. I got close to the edge to take a picture, and caused a huge flock to take off.  They were focusing on and squabbling over fish carcasses. (I’m not sure why they weren’t on the grass above, as there were fresh fish remains there, too.) I felt rude and intrusive!

Houses in Old Massett are often self-construction, each quite different from the rest. Many are beautiful, multistoreyed, taking advantage of the scenery. Others – not so much. The houses in worst shape – the ones most likely to be collapsing – are the mass-produced ones. I’m guessing the ownership arrangements are different; or the actual construction, materials and designs are a lot worse; or I’m prejudiced, and that’s just what I see. If I understand correctly, houses (but not the land under them) are privately owned, so this could well just indicate wealth disparity. I’m told there are no building codes, and contractors are unreliable.

At the end of the road, beyond Jim Hart’s longhouse and carving shed, is the cemetery. It’s a beautiful and sad place, where one can feel enormously grateful to these ancestors who gave life to the people there today – and grief for those whose remains were taken away, and have only recently been brought back home.  (Not to mention the thousands who died of epidemic diseases, leaving devastated communities.) A number of graves we repatriated from the Chicago Field Museum, one dated 2010. (http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/museum_info/press/press_haida.htm)  The oldest of the graves date back to the 1820s.

At Haida Art and Jewelry in Massett, Sarah has some spectacular pieces, e.g. of copper and silver bracelets. There are many woven cedar hats, and an argillite and walrus tusk carving (these by Cooper Wilson).

Tow Hill Road, Agate Beach Provincial Park and campground and North Beach lie beyond Masset; the road changes from paved to gravel and dirt, but is perfectly passable. Agate Beach is a couple of miles of rounded pebbles in all colors, sorted into sizes by the wave action. There are places on the beach where the pebbles rattle as they’re dragged out to sea by the water, only to be thrown up into the air and onto the beach by the next incoming wave! In other spots, there’s a much lower-pitched rumbling of larger stones. There is much to look at – sky, trees, eagles and ravens – but the pebbles and rocks are mesmerizing. They come in many different colors – grey, white, red, green, amber – and there is always the chance of finding an agate. People seem to have jars of them, polished and not. They are beautiful, and addictive.

Just beyond Agate Beach is Tow Hill. It’s large, and seems to emerge out of nowhere. (Oh, how I regret never taking geology!) It’s made out of a relatively soft rock – basalt, maybe? The boulders that have fallen off the cliff onto the beach below are eroded by pebbles in ways that remind me of gigantic-wale corduroy, or multi-humped camels. But another geological question is, what is the source of all those different pebbles on the beach? Where do they originate?

The trail up Tow Hill is a great switch-backed trail, every inch of it a boardwalk (some with handrails) and a grippy material like sandpaper or roof shingles underfoot. Very secure feeling on terrain and boards that would otherwise be really slippery when wet, which it usually is. On steeper sections there are steps, with yellow reflector on the edge. Going up felt really good, for the physical activity, but I was a little nervous about coming down. I stopped frequently to reassure myself that I would not be too frightened about falling off on the descent. It turned out just fine, given the surface, and I focused on stepping off with alternating feet to prevent myself from thinking of the edges.

About 2/3 of the way up is the lookout to North Beach. This is a beach that goes on for many miles; vehicles can drive it much of the way. Being way up high, the view of row after row of waves was marvellous. At the top, the lookout is over Agate Beach and the countryside in that direction. Most of the surrounding land is swampy and muskeggy. Lots of water showing through between trees.

One morning, I went to Port Clements and walked to where the Golden Spruce once stood. Actually, I walked way past it. When I finally decided the trail I was on through grass was used by nothing but deer and turned back, I arrived at a large log across the trail – and my reading glasses, which had fallen off as I climbed over it! That’s also where the sign was, indicating the place where the tree had been, until it was cut down by a misguided environmentalist. (He later disappeared canoeing across the inlet in a storm.) Perhaps I was distracted by the otter swimming in the water.

Peter met me there and drove me through back roads to the location of an ancient half-built canoe, in the process of being shaped out of a log. There was a tree nearby that had been tested for soundness by chopping a hole into its core. The construction of the canoe may have stopped because the log was found to have split lengthwise, down the center. It’s covered in beautiful green moss, and is surrounded by spongy wet compost.

Then I walked on Sunset Park Trail from the Port Clements municipal campground. It goes to a lovely bird lookout that climbs up to the canopy and overlooks a huge estuary that must just be humming with activity at the right time of day/year. The trail also goes through the woods, past culturally modified trees – but this work could have been done by industrial loggers. I did see one warbler, just as a guidebook predicted might happen at that place.

My last day on Haida Gwaii I joined a tour to Gwaii Haanas, the National Park Reserve including the islands other than Graham. At 7:30 a.m., I took a half-hour ferry ride from Skidegate to Moresby, a one-hour van ride to the point from which zodiaks are launched, and a five or six hour tour stopping at a number of places on Louise Island, returning to Skidegate by 6 p.m. The gravel road by van is rough, and the sea was sometimes rough as well – though not usually. It was raining and pretty cold, but between my clothing and what was supplied by Moresby Explorers, it was fine. I had a rain jacket with a wonderful hood with a large peak that fastens down low over my face, until I look up into the wind. They supplied rubber boots, big rubber overalls, and a rubber coat. These were heavy enough to cut the wind and be pretty warm – though they were also heavy enough to be quite hard to move around in, especially lifting feet!

The tour was by Moresby Explorers; their great description of the tour is at http://www.moresbyexplorers.com/Virtual4DayTour.pdf; my part corresponds to a bit less than the first page!

We visited one industrial archeology site, where there is all sorts of machinery left from harvesting Sitka Spruce to make Mosquito aircraft in WWII; light and wooden, radar didn’t detect the planes. Lots of metal debris is overgrown with moss, as are leather boots and bottles. There was a Haida cemetery very nearby (New Kloo); I’m surprised it wasn’t destroyed, but maybe much of it was looted. A Haida village was there for a brief period, as residents of all villages were beginning to converge at Skidegate, as the missionaries wanted. (Much mortality and ease of administration, the likely motives.) We stopped at another site where a few enormous trees had been left untouched, just to see what they were like. Pretty incredible. We also stopped at a sea lion rookery – a small, rocky, very smelly little island. On our way back in the van we saw a bear with two cubs.

The central focus was on K’uuna Linagaay (Skedans), which had been a village of 26 longhouses, with many mortuary, memorial, and house poles. These were earth lodges, and seem to have been sunken some 4 feet into the ground. (It’s not clear to me whether some of this excavation is archeological.) That’s interesting, because I’ve never seen a portrayal of a longhouse that was dug in at all. Housing partly below ground level usually makes sense, depending on the water level.      The major beams of village houses were permanent, but the planks for siding and roof were removable, to be used in building more temporary houses in camps.

The Haida Watchman who toured us around gave many examples of memorial plaques, poles and portions thereof that had been taken away by American tourists, government, museums, etc. Scientists removed the remains of unknown numbers of people from mortuary poles. Although many have been repatriated, they are unidentified beyond whether they were Northern or Southern Haida. As late as the 1970s, lumber companies destroyed much of the village. Emily Carr painted the poles in 1907. The sites and poles had already been recorded and photographed even before that. Recognized as remarkable (if not monumental), how could people justify removing so much? I guess it goes back to the idea that these were dead, abandoned places and cultures, “in the middle of nowhere.” Add to that “finders keepers.” This is the kind of place that gives some the impression Haida culture is gone and dead, the total opposite of the feeling elicited by pole raisings! (http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/bill_reid/english/popups/raising_transcript.html expresses it, but I don`t know whose talk is transcripted! Could be Jim Hart.) There is a direct connection between the two as the places and designs of the ancestors provide the inspiration for the present. Watchman also pointed out that poles that have been propped up crumble quickly, while those that are allowed to fall retain their features.

Sailing between islands, it was really easy to see that, prior to a rise in sea level, these were hills. The narrows between Louise and Moresby Islands has been dredged out, being originally too narrow even for a zodiac! Driving up the valley of the Stikine on the mainland the next day, it was easy to imagine the many small hills becoming islands, if the water level rose. Each would abruptly end in a drop-off at sea level, and no beach at all.

(Today is a spectacularly beautiful day, so much so it has me all choked up and sad about leaving here in two days. As I drove to Charlotte, the landscape was full of landmarks. Even last night’s late drive home seemed short.)




The Haida population is centred at Skidegate and at Old Massett (“the Village”); both are reserves. The other communities (Charlotte, Tlell, Port, Tow Hill) are largely Euro-Canadian.

People wave in the streets, when passed by a car. Rather like me in Grande Prairie, I suppose; chances are I’ll soon know the person, if I don’t already. In Masset in particular, they carry jackets; again, chances are that if it’s not raining, it soon will be.

Barb is the potter at Island Time Pottery, next door to the Dixon Museum.  Despite years in Canada, her American accent comes through (Oregon?)! She sells lots of stuff besides her beautiful blue pottery! She first came to Canada hunting, then had an oil-patch business in Slave Lake, Alberta. She came to Haida Gwaii after the divorce. She seemed to quickly understand what I was looking for, that I wanted to listen to people (both newcomer, like herself, and Haida), and provided me with guidance and pointers. I so appreciate it! (And I wonder what term the people of Haida Gwaii use for what I call “newcomers”!) She suggested I go talk to women who would likely be weaving at the gas bar in Old Massett.

I found the Raven’s Tail weaving at Sherri’s Gas Bar in Old Massett. It’s a big Quonset hut of a place, with a freezer and cookstove on one side, long and immensely thick plank bar down the middle, television and sitting area at the back, and tables with at least one loom going all the time, in the front. Sherri Dick is the weaver here, teaching and helping out many more (including me). (Here she’s on the cover of Haida Laas: http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/Haida_Laas/PDF/Newsletters/HL_Aug_09.LZ.pdf)

Raven’s Tail Weaving uses the colors I’m used to seeing in Chilkat blankets (black, white, yellow, some turquoise), but in geometric patterns rather than in forms, and the method of finger weaving is quite different. Tsimshian weaver Willy White is her mentor. Sherri has beautiful tattoos, some following very old patterns, some very modern and multicoloured. She owns the gas bar and runs it with her partner, Mick Morrison, when he’s not milling huge logs. She was weaving the apron for a funeral potlatch, I believe.

(Lisa Hageman Yahgulaanas provides a wonderful discussion of weaving and a lovely autobiography of a weaver. She also describes the historical transition from Raven’s Tail to button to applique blankets. http://www.ravenweaver.com/about.html) (For Chilkat, see http://explow.com/Chilkat_weaving) (For button blankets, see http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitDa.do;jsessionid=7473E3D0368067BF9188A869F9AAFD19?method=preview&lang=EN&id=9457)

I later took the weaving tour at the Kaay Llnagaay, again with Josh. He pointed out cedar plaiting (as in making a mat, over and under – herringbone), cedar weaving with strands of cedar bark, removal of the cedar bark from the tree, stripping it down. The cedar mat on display was made by him and his nonny, his grandmother. (Chinnee is grandfather.) In another form, cedar strips are held in place with mountain goat’s wool; a chief’s robe made by Sherri using this method is on display. Spruce roots are also woven, harvested in a sandy place where they grow long, stripped of bark, split down the middle, the pith removed, then twisted. A robe by Lisa Hageman Yahgulaanas is there, of the Raven’s Tail type. White and black yarn are twisted around the white warp, the one showing in front depending on what the pattern calls for, with yellow substituting for white every six rows. The weaving goes only from right to left – not back again – and I can’t figure out what becomes of the threads on the right, or how ends are finished off, for that matter. Although Sherri buys her wool online from many places, including South America, it was often thigh spun in the past – twisted on the thigh.

There are at least two other forms of blankets made now. One uses a wool background with ultrasuede shapes appliqued on in tiny stiches (http://www.haidadesigns.com/clothing.htm). There are button blankets as well.

I spent some time with two young women at Sherri’s place. One had been adopted out to Vancouver, along with her sister. She’s now back in the community, trying to find her way and her identity. (I’d been wondering – given the emphasis on matrilineality and parentage, in presenting oneself, what would be the position of a child born out of wedlock?) She wants to act, she’s a great dancer and a charismatic performer. . . It’s not easy, learning to ask for anything, she says, but that’s what a person is expected to do, with family. The other girl is working in safety (first aid?) in Fort Saint John. She was just getting started on her first Raven’s Tail headband, and got going on her blue and white one before she took it with her, back to work. I also met Mick’s son Owen, who rode with me back to Grande Prairie this week, on his way back to Edmonton.

I met Tasha about two-thirds of the way up Tow Hill. She’s a young girl of about 21 who was walking down. She answered my questions about the descent very knowledgeably and reassuringly; she works for the provincial park, collecting campers’ fees and checking the trails. Her other part-time job is at the Hidden Island campground. She’s taking business at Langara College in Vancouver, while her boyfriend is taking anthropology at UBC or SFU. They hope to come back and put their educations to use. She’s a very positive person, wishing the weather would improve but understanding the rain is needed to create this beautiful environment. I should be in Old Massett for National Aboriginal Day on Thursday, she said. People are madly working on the pole honoring Residential School Survivors, to be raised that day.

Myles and Amy Edgars are father and daughter, carvers of argillite. There is a sign by the road in front of his house, on Raven Street in Old Massett. As I went up to the front door, a 5-year old with a blackened face told me his chinnee  was around the corner in his studio. It’s a small room off a small house; everything and everyone is covered in argillite dust.

I went into the studio because I’d already purchased one of his pendants, because the sign was outside, and because I’d seen a website featuring Myles (http://iweb.tntech.edu/cventura/myles.htm). Amy and her brother go to Slatechuck Mountain near Skidegate to get the argillite, which only the Haida can quarry. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haida_argillite_carvings) They bring it down in huge hunks which they paint to keep it moist. Any color or type of paint will do, says Myles. Then the slate is sliced with a table saw, marked with a template, and cut out with a small-toothed saw. Features are chiseled and smoothed, and the edges rounded, blowing off loose dust as they go. The material is pretty soft. I’m not sure if something is applied to protect the surface, or whether time dries it out. Often abalone shell is cut to form eyes, glued on with Superglue. The process makes for uniform pieces, each handmade. These argillite carvings are not factory-made in China! Most of theirs are 2-dimensional pendants, but they do some 3-dimensional. I wondered how healthy it is to breathe argillite dust and absorb it through the skin; probably not great.

At the offices of the Council of the Haida National Council in Skidegate,  I found April Churchill behind a desk not her own. Ms Churchill is the Vice President of the Executive Council of the Haida Nation; Guujaaw is the President. She’s smart, assertive, well-informed, has a broad vision, a very mainstream (but not conformist!) political formation and vocabulary, with a very indigenous orientation. To the Joint Review Panel of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, she spoke of Parliament currently passing the omnibus budget bill, invoking the larger picture. (http://haidagwaiicoast.ca/2012/04/17/a-perspective-on-spirituality-and-the-environment-from-haida-gwaii/)  She was the one who addressed the audience as “Honored Chiefs, Women Held in High Esteem. . .” (as opposed to “Ladies”). She uses that term because that’s what her nonny said. Many people speak of the matriarchs, but she doesn’t like that term. “We’re a patriarchal society,” she says. By that she means that the men are the ones in charge, the spokespersons – but on the other hand, the women monitor pretty carefully what the men say. She watched a tableful of Tsimshian (I think) women watching their chief speak. As long as he stuck to the line they’d specified, they looked down at the table, at their hands in their laps. When he began deviating from the script they looked up, one by one, until he caught on and backed away from the microphone until he’d gathered his thoughts. Still, women aren’t matriarchs in the sense of bosses; they sustain, support and promote the men.

April comes from a long line of weavers. I think most of hers is cedar. http://www.spruceroots.org/November.97/AprilChurchillDavis.html  This article provides a great example of this artists’ family connections! http://www.burkemuseum.org/static/baskets/artists/nnwc.html

A server at a coffee shop in Charlotte is a young woman, six months pregnant. She was living on the Sunshine Coast with her Haida man when she learned she was pregnant. He wanted nothing to do with it, so she moved here, where she’s receiving lots of support from the whole community, including the baby’s grandmother. Although Haida descent is matrilineal (and, for all I know, she may be as well), the Haida Constitution says all people of Haida ancestry are Haida (http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/CHN/PDF/HNConstitutionRevisedOct2010_officialunsignedcopy.pdf. I think non-Haida women are often adopted into a family (presumably into the opposite moiety of their male partner) to provide clear clan and moiety membership to their children. The Constitution of the Haida nation states that those adopted by Haida families don’t have hereditary or aboriginal rights to the land. It would be worthwhile to adopt non-Haida to enlist them as spokespersons and allies.

. I sat with a Euro-Canadian woman and a Haida woman for supper at Hospital Day. Both had worked for the hospital before retirement. The first woman came here from Saskatchewan in the 1960s, left and returned to marry. They say births have changed. It was not uncommon for them to have 27 births in a week but now there are very few, because women are sent to the mainland to have their babies. Women no longer come here from Masset to give birth, because they have their own hospital now. There used to be a lot of injuries and accidents with sawmills, lumber work and fishing; those are now uncommon.


Queen Charlotte City (like Hazelton) is full of signs opposing the pipeline, all hand made. Coming from Alberta, where petrochemical exploitation is assumed to be inevitable (“We can’t stop development!” said Premier Stelmach), and people take it for granted because their lives are dependent on it, I love being in a place where alternatives are still possible.

June 13-14 I attended the Enbridge Pipeline hearings here in Skidegate. The George Brown is a large recreational centre, basketball-court size. Although it was built in the 1970s, it’s been beautifully kept up, well painted, lovely murals inside. There were about 100 people there this morning, and 150 there this evening. Presenters were placed in shifts of four, each one speaking for ten minutes. For the most part, there was no clear reason they were together. All were very articulate and well prepared. I think I saw some forty presentations, and no two were the same, though they all spoke in opposition to the pipeline and, especially, the tankers to be loaded in Kitimat.

Long tables were arranged across the width of the basketball court. At the front (perpendicular to the audience tables) were arranged tables for the panel, transcribers and translators. Across from them, two more tables: one for presenters, one for chiefs. Down one side were bleachers; down the other, space for media and tables with coffee, muffins and snacks. Several women in the audience knitted, making me wish I had mine!

Proper presentations begin with greetings to the “Hereditary Chiefs, Ladies Held in High Esteem, Members of the Panel, precious friends, and good people.” The matrilineal system is very much in evidence. Most presenters, newcomers and Haida, began by speaking of their family history: their parents, where they were raised with how many siblings, their children and grandchildren. The farewell to Panel members is, “May you travel home safely and be warmly welcomed by your family.”

Morning presenters were newcomers, and spoke of the need to protect the islands, the beaches and the oceans. Having just arrived, they made me aware of how important the ocean and shore are to the people of this place. Teachers described how the environment of Haida Gwaii fits into their curriculum. The integration and interrelationship of salmon, bear, trees, and birds is obvious to the students, something that is talked about in the stories they hear at home as well as in a science class in school. What struck me in particular was one teacher`s point that zoos, science centres and grocery stores are all right here, in the immediate environment, not in a segregated space and not requiring field trips to unfamiliar places.

People who guide tourists on kayaks and boats and such have been presenting as well. They are particularly aware of the ecosystem, as they get around a lot. Among those making statements at the hearings were fishermen, employees of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, secondary school students, foresters, environmental consultants, artists and nurses.

There was a large oil spill near Red Deer over the last couple of days. Premier Alison Redford accepts some risk, and hopes the recent heavy rainfall will dilute the contamination over the next while, so it won’t affect the drinking water too much. News of other spills in Alberta (e.g. Elk Point) – and others across the continent was not reassuring.

There was outrage that the federal government of Canada appears to have already made up its mind. In early January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of the Environment Joe Oliver stated their belief that foreign (U.S.) -sponsored radical environmentalists were behind opposition to the pipeline (Oliver’s open letter is at . http://www.joeoliver.ca/news/an-open-letter-from-the-honourable-joe-oliver-minister-of-natural-resources-on-canada%E2%80%99s-commitment-to-diversify-our-energy-markets-and-the-need-to-further-streamline-the-regulatory-process/ )

And where do pipeline advocacy groups get their funding?

Some interesting statements I heard:

–       We have used the resources of this land since before there was light and dark.

–       New jobs created will not replace the jobs lost if there is an accident.

–       The interconnection of all living things is not a theory. It’s a fact.

–       Ballast water discharges from tankers will also be polluting.

–       We’re here today to take care of the ocean, the way it takes care of us.

–       Nature provides for us in great abundance. After all, it once supported 30,000 people; only 1/6 that many live here now.

–       There is much that is magic and spiritual in this location and this environment. Eagles drop feathers on individuals; bears appear upon request.

–       The storms here are incredibly powerful, reaching hurricane strength in minutes.

–       Eight really fluent Haida speakers remain. One (the ninth) died recently, providing 21 new words the day before he passed on.

–       The pipeline is to traverse 600 rivers and streams, many used by salmon, through avalanche territory, in earthquake country. The strongest earthquake ever in Canada measured 8.1 in Queen Charlotte City in 1949.

–       Haida Gwaii is the Galapagos of the North.

–       A student provided a litany of oil spills, many of them Enbridge’s.

–       “Kick the oil habit!”

–       I hope no one comes from far away to your home to endanger your livelihood for the sake of their profit.

–       There is concern about the pipeline and ruptures to it and even more for the tankers, which could cause huge spills, as the Exxon Valdez did in Alaska. The Queen of the North and Red Deer were also mentioned frequently.

–       The bitumen will be sent to China to be paid for by Chinese slave labor, producing goods to be sold here cheaply, displacing Canadian labor and increasing unemployment.

–       Oil should be refined in Canada, adding value and employment, enforcing better labor and environmental standards.

–       There are threats to Canadian sovereignty, as Americans and their tankers don’t recognize maritime territorial rights.

–       Nature deficit disorder: behavioral problems resulting from children spending too little time out of doors. [Nature deficit disorder. (2012, May 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:37, June 15, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nature_deficit_disorder&oldid=491250039]

–       The best system is subject to system mistakes – when things just start going wrong. Also called the domino effect.

–       This was quoted twice: Message from Chief Skidegate

People are like trees, and groups of people are like the forests. While the forests are composed of many different kinds of trees, these trees intertwine their roots so strongly that it is impossible for the strongest winds which blow on our islands to uproot the forest, for each tree strengthens its neighbour, and their roots are inextricably intertwined.

In the same way the people of our Islands, composed of members of nations and races from all over the world, are beginning to intertwine their roots so strongly that no troubles will affect them.

Just as one tree standing alone would soon be destroyed by the first strong wind which came along, so it is impossible for any person, any family, or any community to stand alone against the troubles of this world.

Chief Skidegate – Lewis Collinson, March 1966


–       In 1988, Canada signed an agreement to protect Haida Gwaii. Failing to do so would be criminal.

–       We can’t see any possible way this could be in our best interests.

–       Seaweed is used to fertilize kitchen gardens. The sea feeds the land.

–       Joe Oliver, Minister of the Environment, portrays Haida as simple-minded, externally manipulated.

–       Enbridge says 12 First Nations have signed agreements to the project. Of those, only 2 actually have the pipeline crossing their territory. (Gitksan appeared to agree – but seem to be pulling out.)

–       I cannot allow this. Everything that I eat is part of me and says “No” to your project. The foods that we are say “No.” You people scare the hell out of me. I was called forward by my clan to represent and speak for them. I will not allow you to threaten the land.

–       This land is our home. Our passion for this land has been perceived as a threat. We are threatened.

–       I stand with my fellow chiefs. We stand in opposition to the Gateway Project. We have created an accord and we signed it. We represent clans with chiefs and also clans without chiefs, and those who have been adopted.

A group of children dancers wanted to perform; the commission refused, as the hearings are for spoken presentations only. The dancers’ teacher made her presentation; she described what the dance would have been, and the sadness of the children. Dramatization was definitely involved here, coming from both sides: the commission, “The rules is the rules.” The dance group, “We want to present our message in a traditional way.” Really, is there only one way to communicate? Several people spoke in Haida, and it would have been good if someone had used only Haida. (A song was forbidden, also.)

During the course of these hearings, a number of individuals spoke of demonstrations, blockages, civil disobedience, and their willingness to lay down their own lives to defend the land and ocean. They were sternly warned by Sheila Leggett (Panel Chair) that such threats of violence were not helpful to the inquiry and would not be tolerated. In one of the last statements, a Chief suggested – without directly confronting her – that the violence was coming from the threat of environmental devastation, from the pipeline and tankers, not from the Haida or the people of Haida Gwaii. I mean, who is being violent here?

Thinking of Immanuel Wallerstein and the world economic order (globalization): it continues to be true that local systems are destroyed in order to satisfy distant needs. The Haida confronted MacMillan Bloedel over Lyell Island in the 70s, and the consequences of logging on a gigantic scale are apparent all over the Islands. This struggle provides renewed cause for activism.

During today’s lunch break I went to Charlotte for the post office. The Visitors’ Centre has Internet, so I checked out the Northern Gateway Pipeline Inquiry, and was delighted to find a great deal of information online (http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/hm-eng.html) – including transcripts of all the statements. That’s a great resource, so not having taken a pile of notes was OK! http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/prtcptngprcss/hrng-eng.html

I’m so grateful Josh brought the hearings to my attention. They gave me such great exposure to a broad section of the community, and to what matters to them.



In this place, the people’s relationship with the environment has not been severed. They know they can still obtain a great deal of what they need (e.g. for food, construction, medicine, and fuel) from their immediate surroundings. Money is needed for the extras, for luxuries. This is not a place, or a nation, where special-purpose culture camps are always needed. They never cease. There is a clear understanding that sharing food from the sea, from the tidal zone and from the land creates and reaffirms community. The right to use resource sites is controlled by the families that constitute the community.

I’m told much was lost – but much has been recuperated. No wonder it was lost; it is commonly said that the Haida population dropped from 30,000 to 300. The total current population of the islands is not much more than 5,000. The numbers differ in this Wikipedia extract, but the scale of the tragedy remains:

At the time of colonial contact, the population was roughly 10,000 people,[citation needed] residing in several towns and including slave populations drawn from other clans of Haida as well as other tribes. Ninety percent of the population died during the 1800s from smallpox; other diseases arrived as well, including typhoid, measles, and syphilis, affecting many more inhabitants. By 1900, only 350 people remained. Towns were abandoned as people left their homes for the towns of Skidegate and Masset, cannery towns on the mainland, or for Vancouver Island. Today, only some 3,800 people live on the islands. About 70% of the indigenous people (Haida) live in two communities at Skidegate and Old Masset, with a population of about 700 each. In total the Haida make up 45% of the population of the islands.

Haida Gwaii. (2012, June 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:02, June 14, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Haida_Gwaii&oldid=497040328

The decade of the 2000s was really important to Haida revival. Not only was there the raising of the poles at the Museum site in 2001, but also the repatriation of the remains of some 200 people in 2005, bringing them back from the Museum of Natural History in Chicago and others. What an achievement! But it’s so hard to understand why they would have been taken in the first place. The Skidegate Repatriation & Cultural Committee (http://www.repatriation.ca/) says, “Today the remains of over 460 ancestors have been returned home. This has been our first priority. When this work is complete, we will then turn our attention to the work of repatriating other Haida treasures and cultural materials.” Not only the deceased are being recovered. So are the living – many of those children lost to foster families or to adoption.

The joy and pride are palpable. The Haida are very deliberate and determined about exercising possession of their land, culture, language, and society. In addition to land claims and resource control, women are increasingly taking up weaving (Raven’s Tail, Chilkat, spruce root, cedar), and people are learning as many words and expressions in the language as they can. They are repossessing their artifacts (cultural materials from museums, poles) and their people. The re-creation of dances, drums, songs and regalia – much of which they make themselves – is also significant. It’s somewhat different from the individual artistry of jewelry-makers and argillite-carvers; similar to the cooperative effort of pole-carvers. Christian White seems to be central to this effort in Massett. Some songs are known by everyone, and the whole community hall was singing along. I don’t know whether anything similar to White’s family exists in Skidegate.

So many people live here because they came for a visit and fell in love with what they often called “the lifestyle.” Some speak of a slow pace of life (adult women disagree!), and the fact that everyone knows everyone. It is also really hard to go shopping and buy “stuff”; even Prince Rupert has little to offer, relative to larger southern cities. There has to be more focus on doing things oneself, cost-free. There is a price to be paid for protection from modernization, and that is isolation. Once that is accepted, no problem. Newcomers have been delighted to find people coming by to share – and then they realize their obligation to contribute as well. By then, they’re hooked.

This is why newcomers and Haida are united in their appreciation of Haida Gwaii and their opposition to the pipeline. The convergence of the Euro-Canadian and Haida voices on this topic is remarkable. They’re saying the same things; they’re allies. This protest is an attempt to prevent change, to preserve what is felt to be complete. The Haida may be fortunate in having had a number of battles that required a united front, e.g. the logging of Lyell Island and the pipeline.


On Tuesday, June 19, I was visiting Old Massett when Sherri took me to the longhouse of Christian White (Kilthguulans), where a feast and dancing and drumming were about to begin. It was on the occasion of the visit of some twenty Grade 7 and 8 Nisga’a students from Gitlaxt’aamiks. They were partly sight-seeing (e.g. camping at Agate Beach a night or two) and also sharing their songs, dancing and drumming, performing at several locations on Haida Gwaii. The event was attended by many of White`s relatives (several of whom sang, danced and drummed with him) and people who looked like they might have come from the school district – i.e. they looked Euro-Canadian, but I didn`t introduce myself.

I’m tremendously grateful to Sherri for telling me and taking me, and to Christian White’s family for accepting my presence. There is a brief biography at http://www.spiritwrestler.com/catalog/index.php?artists_id=45 and images of his work in argillite at http://www.coastalpeoples.com/index.php?mpage=artist&aid=73.

The feast food was delicious, and for the second time I ate k’aaw, herring roe on kelp. It’s great, fresh or dried. Many people took home left-overs, and even I got smoked eulachon, a gift from the Nisga’a! (Thanks to Jack!) Other local foods I was able to try on the island were razor clams (cleaned by Peter – thank you! – and harvested on North Beach) and seal meat, at the potlatch in Massett.

The longhouse is a rectangular building with the ceiling some twenty feet high in the centre. Doors are at gable ends of the building – the front door opening from the big hall onto the road, the back door opening into the kitchen. A wall separates the kitchen from a large hall. I think there were five long rows of tables, running from front door towards the back, each probably seating twenty people. There were a number of coppers on the wall, several carved house posts and canoe paddles, and at least two partially completed poles. Woven blankets also hung on the wall.

Perhaps sadly, I did not follow Sherri`s advice and make use of my camera. I feared forgetting to make use of my eyes and my mind, or perhaps causing offense.

Between the tables and the wall separating the kitchen from the great room was a large open space, where the performances took place. The Nisga’a youth performed, led by one man who has been the most active in teaching them; they were accompanied by several teachers and adults, some of who danced and drummed. One song required competition between girls and boys to sing the loudest; the girls were announced winners! They also performed dances appropriate to their clan, and pulled audience members in to join them. The Hobiyee dance is particularly fun! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkhKstD5zhM&feature=related) That’s the New Years, celebrated in February. During one dance, White was required 3 times to follow the motions of young women! In other words, humor abounds.

As the Massett group prepared, story-teller Kung Jadee (Roberta Kennedy), Haida Raven, told of Bear and how humans learned to respect Taan. She recited  dramatically, with hand gestures, intermixing words in Haida that could be fastened into memory. As she’d visited the Nisga’a, students recognized her (http://ges.nisgaa.bc.ca/2012/06/kung-jadee-haida-storyteller-and-singer-visits-ges/).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqFCMiI-jxM  http://www.sharkhouse.ca/  http://www.sharkhouse.ca/stories.shtml

Rather than dancing differently depending on their clan, the Haida danced in such a way as to show off crests, blankets and regalia, tilting left, right, and back again, 180 degrees, so all could see. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vsruIIZSJo&feature=related) Oh, and they dance in a counter-clockwise direction – totally wrong for the prairies! They too called for audience participation. The women’s dance is graceful, as described above. The men’s is noisy, stomping, forceful and competitive. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxSjHMvVMrg) It reminded me of Maori dancing. There was a gambling song, requesting individuals to come up to give something; I realized this was a chance to contribute money, going to help defray travel costs of the Nisga’a group.

I visited the site of the totem pole carving on Eagle Street. Donnie Edenshaw talked to me; it’s his pole. There were at least half a dozen men working on it; he was using a chainsaw, but the others were using chisels. One of these was Gwaii Edenshaw, who with his brother Jaalen carved the Two Brothers Pole that was erected last year in Jasper. http://www.ckua.com/11/12/10/From-Haida-Gwaii-to-Jasper/landing.html?blockID=351387&feedID=7593 (Jaalen was also head carver of a pole raised on Lyell Island in August, 2013: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/news-video/20130816theglobeandmailpolegwaii720p3000kbpsmp4/article13823652/#dashboard/follows/

I returned to Massett for National Aboriginal Day celebrations. I knew from Tasha and Sherri that, during the day, the village would raise a pole and hold a potlatch. Although I missed the parade, there were pedal-driven bumper cars and cotton candy during the afternoon. Sherri encouraged me to go into the community center to ask if they needed any help, and I did.

Dana Bellis (Jaad Gudangaa ‘laas) (http://rabble.ca/news/2012/05/made-haida-gwaii-new-energy-north – major achiever!), the young woman organizing the feast, offered my services to Marjorie, the cook, who had me lay out plates of butter on 11 long tables.  The tables were covered in white paper, and at each setting was a napkin and a packet of salt and pepper. Too late, I saw a sign asking people to bring their own plates, bowls, cups and cutlery, and dessert would be potluck. Bring some fruit to add to the community fruit salad. (I attended with nothing!) Then I helped place small bundles of cedar on the tables. Others placed candies at each cedar bundle. Each table held 26-32 people. By feast time, these were full, i.e. about 330 people with another 150 or so in bleachers.

The hall is based on basketball court dimensions. The speech-making centre is in the centre of a long side, the bleachers on the opposite side, and long tables run parallel to bleachers, leaving a large, empty area in the centre.

While helping set the tables, I met Donna* a woman of about my age with a weakness for candy! She’s about my age, and has worked most of her life as a cook. She has at least a couple of children and three grandchildren. A brother and a friend joined her at the feast, and she invited me to sit with them. Very kind! They came equipped with sets of cutlery, bowls, salt and pepper, everything needed for a picnic except the food! I got lot of photos of her and her family, especially the loving uncle with his great-nieces. Once again, at this feast I was fed like an elder – and once again, I was at the table with the Nisga’a kids.

Before food began, I went outside to the area where salmon steaks were being grilled on really large barbecues. Two guys were running the barbecues, and a third was helping put cooked pieces under cover. They gave me a delicious bit to try. Also loved the baked potato and the Caesar salad! Donna went to get us dessert: cups of fruit salad.

The Master of Ceremonies was Ken Bell, who owns the Haida Rose Café with his wife, Lucy. A woman MC’ed with him. Didn’t get her name or status. The dinner started with a prayer. The Nisga’a kids were about the last to get food, being young! The food was prepared in a kitchen at the entry to the building, by volunteers who also do the serving.

The MC was busy for hours! There were several draws for door prizes and 50/50 during the evening. After supper, the Nisga’a youth performed gamely, despite their fatigue. They were gifted with a box drum! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovwWcpThQao) One of the teachers got me out to dance, this time. (Last time I refused a young man.) Another boy gave me a greeting card. Over dinner, the teachers told me of the lava fields, of the plentiful fish oil, and of the problems with bears in their territory.

Supper was followed by speeches by Donnie Edenshaw, his wife and daughter. I wish I knew the whole story of each part of the memorial pole to survivors of residential schools. Several survivors told their stories. It seems as if those who went to Port Alberni suffered the most abuse. Earlier, I’d walked to the hall with a man who did not attend the schools, but whose siblings did. He spoke of how strange they were when they came home after long absences. The loss of language and culture were acute. A whole lot were taken to residential school in Edmonton! I can’t imagine the rationale behind taking them at least three days away, to a totally different environment and climate. (This is among the many negative associations with Alberta. There are the oil sands, and just the blatant wealth of Alberta: lots of jobs, no sales tax, the ability to travel. . .)

Christian White and his group then came out to dance, sing and drum. For any song (Nisga’a or Haida), the composer and/or owner of a song is thanked for allowing its performance. There was one (not to be filmed) of Taan (Black Bear) leading a human to healing. Another was a Graduation Song, to honor Donnie Edenshaw, memorial pole designer. He danced around a small sculpture set on the dance floor, and was then surrounded by the whole group.

I joined in the women’s dance, this time, followed again by the men’s competition dance. Here, the carver in particular shone – as did the MC, and White.  A great deal of regalia was worn for this occasion, including the robes described above, hats (lighter-color small-gauged weaving is for higher titles, the lightest being of spruce root), leggings and aprons. Headbands are often worn instead of hats. (In fact, it seems Haida are always wearing something that identifies them as Haida – and as members of a moiety and clan as well! T-shirts, caps, jewelry, handbags, tattoos. . .) I swear pretty girls in Haida Gwaii apply eyeliner such that their eyes look like the ovoids in artwork!

Finally came the big moment, when the performing group led the way out of the hall and down to the site where the pole was ready to be raised. It was on the ground, its base lined up with the hole it was to fall into and lines strung up to pull it up. After a prayer, people lined up on either side of the lines and pulled on cue. It was beautiful to watch scores of people on the lines, hundreds standing around witnessing. They were still making minor adjustments when I left to return to Tlell at 11 p.m.

On the 22nd I went to Kaay Llnagaayfor the opening of the exhibition of the photographs of Ulli Steltzler. She was born in 1923, and has been coming here since the early 1970s (having immigrated from Germany in 1953). When she came, she found artists just becoming active, recovering methods and designs, carving poles, wood and argillite, and began a photographic record of the artists and the community. Prior to that, most photography (and discussion) of the area was of abandoned villages and crumbling, tipping totem poles. She photographed the people alive, children talking, elders laughing together, etc. She went harvesting with them, lived with them, did everything. She was engaged in a bunch of other social-justice stuff, and more indigenous work – e.g. among Navajo. She was here last night, a white-haired lady.

She spent a lot of time with Florence Davidson, who shows up all over the museum practicing artistic and craft techniques: harvesting and processing spruce roots and cedar bark, making baskets, telling stories and teaching language. I’d sure like to know how she was able to retain all this knowledge. She was born in 1896, but seems to have learned everything and passed it all on!

Also speaking last night were her grandsons, Robert and Reg Davidson. Jim Hart was there, and Guujaw. It’s pretty amazing for me to be in a room with these very talented, famous, and achieving people. I’m privileged and grateful.

(The interrelationship between these Haida artists is incredible. I wish I had the time to trace the family trees. Donnie Edenshaw is the son of Cooper Wilson [of walrus tusk and argillite] and brother of Freddie Wilson. Mother of Freddy is Brenda Edenshaw.)

On the 23rd I attended the 104th celebration of Hospital Days at Queen Charlotte. It was spectacularly beautiful day, complete with big white mountains in the distance. It started with a community parade: the RCMP, the Tai Chi society, kids and a couple of businesses. There were silent auctions and carnival games such as bean-bag tosses, all local, for the hospital’s benefit. The Province has committed to a new hospital for Charlotte. Good breakfast, lunch and supper was available at the community centre, too! I did not attend the dance at 10 p.m.

There were several slow-pitch games during the afternoon and evening, fun to watch and new to me. I also checked out the library, a small room but with enough books, movie DVDs and music CDs to keep me busy for a while. While Euro-Canadians manned most everything and did most of the volunteering, there were plenty of Haida around, especially the slow-pitch.

HAIDA SOCIAL ORGANIZATION – I’m working on understanding it!

Both Nisga’a and Haida are matrilineal. The Haida have two moieties: Raven and Eagle. Christian White said the Haida have two “sides.” These two are represented on the Haida flag, in what looks like a two-headed bird – one head Raven, the other Eagle. Within each of these is a number of crests.

Although the Haida have almost seventy crest figures, less than a score are in general use. A few crest figures were used by many lineages, and a larger number were exclusive to a few lineages. The Killer Whale, which is a particularly strong feature of Haida art and myth, is a popular crest. All Raven lineages use forms of the Killer Whale as a crest; one of them, the Raven-Finned Killer Whale, refers to the myth in which Raven pecked himself out of the body of a Whale through the end of its dorsal fin. Eagle lineages of Ninstints use only the Five-Finned Killer Whale, which links them to specific Killer Whale chiefs whose undersea village was near their own and with whom their mythic ancestors had a profitable experience. The tall dorsal fin of Killer Whale crests that belong to Ravens are always black, while those of Eagles have a diagonal white stripe.

All of the land mammals used as crests, except for the Beaver, belong to the Raven moiety. Some of these crests such as the Mountain Goat, the Wolf and the Grizzly are of animals that do not occur on Haida Gwaii; their use was transferred from Tsimshian chiefs on the mainland. All crests of amphibious creatures such as the Beaver and the Frog are the exclusive prerogative of the Eagle moiety and also originated with the Tsimshian. Sea mammals mostly belong to the Ravens, although many Eagle lineages use the Blackfish as a crest. Fish crests are heavily weighted in favour of the Eagle moiety, who use the Sculpin, Skate, Dogfish, Starfish and Halibut. The Ravens share with them the Dogfish and the Skate. (http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/haida/hapmc01e.shtm)

I don’t really get the meaning of crests! Crests are obtained through purchase (i.e. proving worthiness), or are attached to story or particular events. They belong to the clan, and more than one clan can have the same crest. Then I consider the added layer of patrilineal surnames – at least, I think everyone takes them, but I didn’t actually ask if women take on their husband’s surname, and children their father’s. On the one hand, it seems confusing; on the other, the diversity of principles adds to the flexibility of kinship systems. I wonder how common exogamous marriage is (i.e. with non-Haida). Imagine the degree of interrelatedness of people, having started from a population of 260 and now numbering ten times that!

Nisga’a have a number of Tribes (my “clans”), Eagle, Raven, Wolf and Killer Whale, subdivided into Clans, houses or groups of houses (my “lineages” and “sublineages”). These housegroups were territorial, owning crests and resources. [(n.d.). Kinship, Family, and Social Organization. Retrieved from http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/Encyclopedia/A-Z/a12/4]

April used the terms clan, tribe and nation. I think by “clan” she meant what I would call “lineage”; “tribe” would be Christian White’s “side” and my “moiety”; nation is Haida. Crest is something else again, and I’m not sure how it’s acquired or what it means.

I continue to puzzle over clans. Perhaps they were originally villages, and when people were forced into Skidegate and Massett, they came to be thought of as descent rather than more territorial-locational groups. Thus, there could be several chiefs in one village, governing dispersed territories and people. Perhaps villages originally belonged to one moiety, so village exogamy would have been necessary. Then each village would have access to some of the resources of affines located elsewhere. The wealth of a village was measured by the diversity and amount of its resources. These weren’t just on the ocean, but extended far inland to the timber stands; as Watchman explained, if a group did not have access to large logs, trade might make it possible. Evidence of the extensive use of inland locations is that there was a name for every place.



Haida Government (according to April Churchill plus Internet):

The Council of the Haida Nation is to consolidate all Haida into one political entity. Polling stations are set up in Skidegate, Massett, Vancouver and Prince Rupert to elect President, Vice-President, 4 reps from Skidegate, 4 from Massett, 2 from Vancouver, 2 from Prince Rupert, 1 from Skidegate Band Council and 1 from Old Massett Village Council. Representatives to the Council of the Haida Nation meet every three months.  http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/CHN/Representatives.html

The Haida House of Assembly consists of all Haida and is held over four days each October, alternating between Skidegate and Massett. The HOA establishes laws through motions and resolutions, all according to the Constitution of the Haida Nation. http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/Governance/House%20of%20Assembly.html

The Hereditary Chiefs Council consists of all 19 potlatched clan chiefs. They meet every 2 months, and provide CHN w/ guidance on cultural matters. http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/Governance/Hereditary_Chiefs_Council.html.

The Old Massett Village Council and the Skidegate Band Council are elected by their members, and responsible for areas of Capital, Education, Membership, Health and Social Development. Sounds like it’s Indian Act matters.


The Secretariat of the Haida Nation receives and administers funds for the CHN. The Haida Tribal Fisheries Committee makes recommendations to the Secretariat about boats and licenses under the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy Agreement. http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/Governance/Haida_Tribal_Society.html



I really enjoyed Haida Gwaii. I loved learning my way around Graham Island, walking or driving around the villages and roadways. There is something different around every corner – nothing like the broad stretches of sameness in the Prairie landscape, and certainly not like the huge expanses of housing developments in large cities. Each stretch of beach is different, and there are so many kinds of shoreline – in addition to which they change during the day, with the tide and the wind and likely with the season! The vegetation is equally luxuriant and variable. I must admit I had some trouble with trails through forest with slippery exposed roots and branches underfoot! Old forest seems to be more clear underneath, and gravel pathways are far easier for me. Temperatures are quite pleasant enough, with an undershirt. Rain is very common, but seldom a deluge. When the sun comes out, it’s quite breathtaking, just because there are so many different colors.

The people of Haida Gwaii share a really strong aesthetic identity, epitomized by but not limited to the Haida. A difference is that newcomers’ artistic expression – or just their taste – is individualistic, particular to each person, while that of the Haida is originally communal. Assurance and boastfulness have long been noted among peoples of the West Coast, but it’s about being proud of oneself as a Haida person, as a member of a moiety and a clan.

The artistic self-identification is reinforced by the fact that many of the forms of art produced by Haida are readily recognized and appreciated by others. (Having said which, in The ghostland people so many late-19th century observers described memorial poles etc. as “grotesque” that I had to look up the word, thinking perhaps it once had a different meaning than the “weird, exaggerated, twisted” implications it has for me. No; it comes from “grotto” – cave-like.) Still, wall-art, statues, textiles, carving, jewelry and ornaments in general – decorative more than utilitarian – are certainly admired by Westerners, and are something we’re willing to pay for and keep. The design of and work on these items allows the Haida artist to practice, express and learn her own culture and use it perhaps to infiltrate the consciousness of the consumers of her art.

Haida Gwaii and her people seduce newcomers into appreciating, sharing and protecting her. Those who get satisfaction out of harvesting their own food, sharing it, witnessing the abundance of uncontaminated nature, with a little danger and discomfort (wildness) thrown in, are hooked. Fortunately for them, the isolation and cost required to arrive and live there probably guarantee that it’s never going to get too crowded and thus change completely.


WEBSITES of interest

http://sd50.bc.ca/district/district-contacts-staff-lists/skidegate-haida-immersion-program-ship/ is the link to SHIP, describing its goals and achievements, particularly in collecting, protecting and using the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language.

http://www.haidanation.ca/ is the website of the Haida Nation – all sorts of information.

http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/Haida_Laas/Haida_Laas.html is a link to the Newletter of the Haida Nation, a really high-quality publication with information, research, and perspectives. There are photos of lots of community members and events through time, descriptions of ceremonies and foods, organizations and issues.

http://www.haidaheritagecentre.com/ is the website of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay. I bought a membership and returned four or five times! There are tables on the beach, where I sat to write notes. Once, a young man on a bicycle approached me. Mark and his girlfriend are here to visit the Islands, and they’re volunteering in a project to protect the ancient murrelets I wish I’d taken his photo together with a totem pole!

http://www.spruceroots.org/ – a bit of many things Haida Gwaii



One thought on “Haida Gwaii

  1. Laurie this is amazing how much time it must take you to record all theses details!
    Excellent Job and glad to read you are enjoying your trip(s).
    Take care!

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