Haida Gwaii is homeland to the Haida people. Within this tremendously wealthy natural environment, a complex and sophisticated society was developed over thousands and thousands of years.

Traces of Haida ancestors have been found in over 800 recorded archaeological sites on Haida Gwaii. The oldest found to date, reveals an age of approximately 9000 years before present.

New archaeological evidence suggests that the population of Haida Gwaii could have once been as high as 30,000. This is based on the density of settlements found in the southern portion of the islands, as well as the discovery of many sites, now in intertidal or subtidal areas of the shoreline. Sea levels have fluctuated dramatically on Haida Gwaii. Ten thousand years ago, a grassy plain covered large portions of the Hecate Straits which now separate the islands from the mainland. People and animals moved freely through this area and the requirement for water travel was minimal by comparison with today.
Haida Gwaii is homeland to the Haida people. Within this tremendously wealthy natural environment, a complex and sophisticated society was developed over thousands and thousands of years.

Traces of Haida ancestors have been found in over 800 recorded archaeological sites on Haida Gwaii. The oldest found to date, reveals an age of approximately 9000 years before present.

New archaeological evidence suggests that the population of Haida Gwaii could have once been as high as 30,000. This is based on the density of settlements found in the southern portion of the islands, as well as the discovery of many sites, now in intertidal or subtidal areas of the shoreline. Sea levels have fluctuated dramatically on Haida Gwaii. Ten thousand years ago, a grassy plain covered large portions of the Hecate Straits which now separate the islands from the mainland. People and animals moved freely through this area and the requirement for water travel was minimal by comparison with today.

© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Sheild

Copper with bear crest. U.B.C. Museum of Anthroplogy A7102

U.B.C. Museum of Anthroplogy

A7102
© U.B.C. Museum of Anthroplogy


Harpoon

Ivory Harpoon.

Photo: Haida Gwaii Museum

1.248
© Haida Gwaii Museum


It is estimated that there were at least fifty thriving Haida villages throughout Haida Gwaii at the time of European contact (c.1774).

Contact with Europeans, beginning in the late 1700s had a devastating impact on the Haida population. Several epidemics of smallpox ravaged the Haida villages. The most severe of these was recorded in 1862. It is estimated that approximately 95 percent of the Haida population was wiped out by disease. A census conducted by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1885 counted only 800 Haida. By 1915, the population had dropped further to 588. In spite of this incredible calamity and the further effects of residential schools, Haida culture survived. Today, the Haida population has rebounded to 4000.
It is estimated that there were at least fifty thriving Haida villages throughout Haida Gwaii at the time of European contact (c.1774).

Contact with Europeans, beginning in the late 1700s had a devastating impact on the Haida population. Several epidemics of smallpox ravaged the Haida villages. The most severe of these was recorded in 1862. It is estimated that approximately 95 percent of the Haida population was wiped out by disease. A census conducted by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1885 counted only 800 Haida. By 1915, the population had dropped further to 588. In spite of this incredible calamity and the further effects of residential schools, Haida culture survived. Today, the Haida population has rebounded to 4000.

© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of Village

Old Massett, 1879.

Photo : O.C. Hastings
Royal British Columbia Museum
c. 1879
© Royal British Columbia Museum


Skidegate, 1884.

Photo : Richard Maynard
Royal British Columbia Museum

© Royal British Columbia Museum


After the smallpox epidemics, the remaining Haida moved to two central villages on the islands, Skidegate, at the south end of Graham Island, and Old Massett in the north, at the mouth of Massett Inlet.

Today these two villages are growing rapidly. Although the economy of the islands has been based in the forest industry and commercial fisheries since the 1930s, declining fish stocks and forest resources are precipitating new approaches to making a living on Haida Gwaii. Tourism, secondary wood manufacturing, and arts and crafts are some examples of growing economic trends on the islands.

Old Massett and Skidegate each has a Village Council which provides local government. In addition, the Council of the Haida Nation was formed to work in a broad political spectrum with the two Village Councils, Clans and individuals. The Council of the Haida Nation’s mandate is to protect and assert Aboriginal Title and the rights of the people. Among its activities are the negotiations toward a Treaty/Land Claims agreement with the Governments of Canada and British Columbia.
After the smallpox epidemics, the remaining Haida moved to two central villages on the islands, Skidegate, at the south end of Graham Island, and Old Massett in the north, at the mouth of Massett Inlet.

Today these two villages are growing rapidly. Although the economy of the islands has been based in the forest industry and commercial fisheries since the 1930s, declining fish stocks and forest resources are precipitating new approaches to making a living on Haida Gwaii. Tourism, secondary wood manufacturing, and arts and crafts are some examples of growing economic trends on the islands.

Old Massett and Skidegate each has a Village Council which provides local government. In addition, the Council of the Haida Nation was formed to work in a broad political spectrum with the two Village Councils, Clans and individuals. The Council of the Haida Nation’s mandate is to protect and assert Aboriginal Title and the rights of the people. Among its activities are the negotiations toward a Treaty/Land Claims agreement with the Governments of Canada and British Columbia.

© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Logo

Skidegate Village Council logo

Skidegate Village Council

© Skidegate Village Council


Logo

Old Massett Village Council logo

Old Massett Village Council

© Old Massett Village Council


Logo

The Council of the Haida Nation logo

The Council of the Haida Nation

© The Council of the Haida Nation


Haida society is based in a matrilineal system of descent. Property, titles, names, crests, masks, performances, and even songs are among the Haidas’ hereditary privileges. These are passed from one generation to the next, through the mother’s side. A chief, for example, usually inherits his title from his mother’s brother or his maternal uncle. A group of related families, descending from a common ancestor forms a lineage, sharing crests, names and songs.

Today, about forty lineages are represented in Old Massett and Skidegate, the two major Haida communities on the islands. All families are also divided into one of two groups, Eagle and Raven. Every Haida is either Eagle or Raven, following from the mother. If one is born Raven, he or she must marry Eagle
Haida society is based in a matrilineal system of descent. Property, titles, names, crests, masks, performances, and even songs are among the Haidas’ hereditary privileges. These are passed from one generation to the next, through the mother’s side. A chief, for example, usually inherits his title from his mother’s brother or his maternal uncle. A group of related families, descending from a common ancestor forms a lineage, sharing crests, names and songs.

Today, about forty lineages are represented in Old Massett and Skidegate, the two major Haida communities on the islands. All families are also divided into one of two groups, Eagle and Raven. Every Haida is either Eagle or Raven, following from the mother. If one is born Raven, he or she must marry Eagle

© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Photo

Skidegate Feast.

Photo: Barb Wilson

© Barb Wilson


Photo

Haida Chiefs and Elijah Harper at Skidegate.

Photo : Joy LaFortune

© Joy LaFortune


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Summarize the history of the Haida people from ancient times to present
  • Describe the structure of Haida society
  • Describe the effect of European contact on Haida society

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