"We are going to be on the islands (of Haida Gwaii) forever"
For at least 10,000 years, the Haida and their ancestors have lived on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago of 150 islands located about 80 km (50 miles) off the coast of British Columbia. Scattered over some 6,400 square km (4000 square miles), these islands are rich in resources from the land and the sea, upon which the Haida have depended for generations.
"We are going to be on the islands forever. It doesn't matter what. If they take all the trees off, we will still be sitting here, and if they take all our seafood we will still be here. Life will be different, that's for sure, but we will still be here. We are not going to move." - Jim Hart, 2000
"To honour our relatives"
Giant red cedars, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and yellow cypress thrive in the moist, cool climate of Haida Gwaii. Long before Europeans arrived on the coast, the Haida were carving and raising totem poles, as a way of recording their history and honouring their ancestors. When seafaring traders arrived in the late 1700s, they reported in journals and drawings their observations of freestanding totem poles and carved houseposts, mainly amongst the Haida and Tlingit peoples of the area.
"Raising our pole (in Old Massett, August 1999) was to honour my uncle, Morris White, who held the Haida chiefly name of 7idansuu; and also to honour our ancestors. It's a part of our cultural history. Part of history" - Jim Hart, 2000
"We are...fighting hard to strengthen and reinforce the old ways"
European settlement initially brought economic vitality to coastal First Nations communities, but devastation soon followed. Disease, displacement, forced conversion to Christianity, and suppression of languages, resulted in profound loss of culture amongst the First Nations, as well as loss of life. Before contact, the Haida numbered more than 10,000; by 1915, the population had fallen to 588. As their population declined, the Haida congregated in two remaining villages, Old Massett and Skidegate.
"This is a dangerous time for us because the outside influence is so strong. But we have a good core of people that are really fighting hard to strengthen and reinforce the old ways. We're not trying to go back to the olden days - which would be nice, but it just won't happen. It's not like that." - Jim Hart, 2000
photo credit: Skidegate, 1879. R. Maynard photo; RBCM.