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Ceremonial raising of Haida Pole - first in over 130 years


Steeped in a tradition that goes back thousands of years, while at the same time representing the vibrant future of the Haida Nation, the Legacy Pole was raised at Windy Bay in Gwaii Haanas yesterday.  The 42-foot monument honours the historic agreement between the Haidi nation and the Canadian government that led to the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.42-foot Legacy Pole

The day began with cloud and rain and wind here in Skidegate, but there was excitement in the air on the early morning ferry that took us to Moresby Island, from where we took zodiacs on a 2-hour trip to Windy Bay. Dozens of boats, large and small, from a large tourist catamaran, to the kayaks paddled by more intrepid visitors, all headed to Windy Bay overlooking Hecate Strait on Lyall Island.  The closer we got to Windy Bay, the better the weather got, and as we passed the ancient village site of Tanu, final resting place of Bill Reid, the sun broke through and stayed for the day.On my way to the ceremony

Windy Bay, an ancient Haida village, was the site of the Haida protest against logging more than 25 years ago, that eventually led to the joint establishment of the Gwaii Haanas Haida Heritage Site and National Park Reserve, that now also includes the over 3000 sq km National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.

CPAWS is proud to have been part of the protection of this incredible area from the beginning, and honoured to work with the Haida over the past 20 years. I was personally thrilled to work with Haida representatives in telling the story of Gwaii Haanas to audiences across Canada in 2009 in CPAWS' Dare to be Deep national tour. Most recently I was honoured to be appointed to the Haida’s marine advisory committee and participate in the development of a marine use plan for Haida Gwaii.

Chiefs welcome youth to Windy Bay

In celebration of the 20-year anniversary, Gwaii Haanas commissioned a new totem pole, the first pole to be raised in over 130 years in this area. It is fitting that the pole was carved by the new generation of Haida artists. Led by 30 year old Jaalen Edenshaw and assisted by Tyler York and Jaalen’s older brother Gwaai, the pole tells the story of Gwaii Haanas.

Gwaii Haanas is renowned for both its natural and cultural beauty. The ancient village of Sgan Gwaii (Ninstints) is a mecca for visitors who want to appreciate an ancient village site with its original totem poles. As Ernie Gladstone, the Haida superintendent of Gwaii Haanas, noted in his remarks yesterday, the ancient poles are returning to the earth, as they are meant to, and new poles will eventually replace them.The Legacy Pole drew huge crowds

Over 300 people descended on Windy Bay yesterday to both witness and assist with the raising of the pole, done in the traditional way with ropes and human power. In an atmosphere of community and friendship among Haida and non-Haida, locals and visitors, young and old, the pole was pulled up, straightened, and fixed into position with rocks and dirt, accompanied by cheering and singing.Traditional method of raising totem poles

During pole raising ceremony, the three carvers blessed and danced around the pole. Haida matriarch, Diane Brown blessed and washed the pole with a spruce branch, which was then sprinkled with eagle down by young girls. An evil spirit visited the pole and was chased away by Guujaaw, renowned carver, father of Jaalen and Gwaai, and former president of the Council of the Haida Nation.Youth joined in the celebration

From the eagle at the top of the pole to the sculpin on the bottom, the pole tells the story of Gwaii Haanas, which is protected from mountain top to sea floor. Other figures include: the supernatural being responsible for earthquakes on Haida Gwaii, in recognition of the 2012 earthquake that stopped the flow to the hotsprings; 5 people to represent the Lyall Island blockade; a raven for the other major Haida clan; and the grizzly bear, which was once found on Haida Gwaii.

Eagle sits atop the Legacy Pole

It was a day to celebrate friendship and collaboration that made both Gwaii Haanas, and the new pole a reality. As we left Windy Bay on our return trip, the 40-foot pole seemed to preside over the bay and looked like it had always been there.

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to the community celebration in Skidegate that will honour the cooperation embodied by Gwaii Haanas, and will feature Haida ceremonies by vibrant singers and dancers in traditional regalia, together with copious local foods harvested from the land and sea.