Most of our stops were at old Haida village sites. One of the highlights, aside from the totem poles, were the sites of the large houses; here’s a sample:
The idea was, they dug down into the earth, then they put up a fair-size house on top. The steps down to the floor would provide living and sleeping space; the fire would be in the middle. The interior space was really impressive; there are cool old photos at the Canadian Museum of History.
Skedans and the Hot Springs · Our first Haida-village-site stop was at Skedans; a couple of the locals told us it should be called Q’una, but the local Watchman (who was a woman) Carol Duck, called it “Skedans”, so I guess either works. Carol was absolutely great, and here’s a story. While we were there, the weekly supply boat pulled up, and there was a lot of chaos while they were unloading their stuff. Carol climbed on the boat to visit with someone; when it was pulling out, I noticed she hadn’t come back and mentioned that to one of the locals. He laughed and yelled at them and the boat turned around and brought her back. I guess one of the guys was her partner, because another man hollered out “he’s trying to take your woman away, just like one of those old Haida stories!” and there was a general outburst of hilarity; Carol (everyone called her “Duck”) wasn’t totally amused.
Another stop worth mentioning is Hotspring Island, a totally ordinary little place except for the geothermal hot spring, downstream of which they’ve built a bunch of hot tubs, just above a sandy beach, so you can do the “chill your ass in the North Pacific, then bake it in the hot sulphurous water” thing. A totally relaxing place to stop for lunch.
While we were there, an RCMP police boat pulled up, with a couple of personable young officers; they’d been on a training patrol up and down the remote, stormblown west coast of Haida Gwaii, and broken their boat in a couple of places. In distant communities like Haida Gwaii, the RCMP usually sends in ignorant junior white boys for four-year postings, then rotates them out as they begin to grow a clue or two.
After they left, I was shooting the shit with two Haida tour-guide guys, and it was a little tense until we discovered that we all mostly hold the RCMP in contempt. There’s the part where too many of their arestees die in captivity, the part where they systematically harass their female employees, the part where the leadership was embezzling the retirement funds, the part where they taser ignorant confused immigrants to death in Vancouver airport, and — particularly relevant in that context — the part where our indigenous people have come to regard them, generally, as the enemy.
Back to our vacation. One thing I want to highlight is the general wonderfulness of cruising from island to island in a small boat, every moment a feast for the eyes; I’m talking about the quality of light, and the textures of the trees and the stones and the water. Here are a few random snaps from in the boat.
It’s worth noting that those last two pictures are from the exact same spot, beside a random tiny island, looking up at the trees then down at the urchins and anemones. It helps that a Zodiac can float right up to the edge of a rocky island, that this is basically a fjord so there’s lots of water right up to the edge, and that our guide Marilyn was an awesome boat pilot.
Windy Bay · It’s another old Haida village site, but here’s the view coming in; there’s a new big house and totem pole.
This is on Lyell Island, Athlii Gwaii, a special place. It’s beautiful, like many islands on Gwaii Haanas, but it was the site, starting in 1985, of a pitched battle between the Haida and some supporting greens on one side, and the logging industry, which was hell-bent on monetizing every old-growth tree in the hemisphere. 72 citizens were arrested but they won, and launched the process that led to the creation of Gwaii Haanas. I’m in awe, full of gratitude for those people and their work, and you should be too.
Here are a couple of shots of the totem pole.
The Haida Watchman there at Windy bay was Henry Tyler (everyone calls him “Tyler”) and when we went into the big house, he told us stories of the Athlii Gwaii protest action (they sent in Haida RCMP officers to arrest their own elders, thinking that would help) and then took out a drum and sang the Athlii Gwaii song which, he said, is becoming the Haida national anthem. It was a moment of wrenching beauty. Thank you Tyler, and good luck to you and your people.
Time moves on, and the old totems that haven’t fallen yet will, but as you can see, the world has new totems too. And then, this is happening.