Our project, Canada is Great, has been going great. I guesstimate that we have over one hundred hours of footage, ALREADY, and will be accumulating a lot more in the next few months!
We are in the southwest, currently in Vancouver and soon off to Vancouver Island, after a wonderful time spent in Haida Gwaii.
Some great things that have happened in the last week and a bit:
-we were lucky enough to be in Haida Gwaii during a potlatch event, which is a traditional Haida celebration involving lots of dancing, music, food, gifts, and speeches from important people
-we witnessed David Suzuki receiving a new Haida name, as he has already been adopted into a local Haida clan in the past
-we met a super cool filmmaker and multimedia professional from Haida Gwaii, who runs the company Innonative.
-we talked about our project on the CBC Daybreak North radio show
-we talked to a carpenter who built a guesthouse almost entirely from wood that washed ashore the island, and it was amazing
-we admired the hard work and detail put into building a stackwall house, by an over-70-year-old woman, who has been continuously building her house for 40 years
On another note, the recent history of Haida Gwaii is grim, but worth learning nonetheless.
Haida people have been living on the islands for over 10 000 year. Haida Gwaii consists of 150 islands, with two main islands, and it is rich in resources. The first European contact was in 1774, and the years following can be told as no fairy tale. The Europeans found value in sea otter pelts, and soon the otters became extinct in the waters around the islands. Diseases such as tuberculosis and smallpox were introduced, bringing Haida populations down tremendously (this happened in the late 19th century). The Haida experienced forced assimilation and were not permitted to speak their native language or practice their culture in any way. Logging became a main industry on the island, and huge areas of old growth forest were completely cut down. The islands and their people were being treated with no respect for hundreds of years. Luckily, from what I saw and understood during our visit, things are getting better for the Haida, and are expected to continue that way!
.Our trip in Haida Gwaii went as followed:
Arrive in Skidegate from the ferry
Head north to Old Masset and Masset
Slowly head back south, stopping in Port Clements, Tlell, Skidegate, and eventually Queen Charlotte
For those of you reading this who have never heard of Haida Gwaii, you may have heard of the islands by their previous name, the Queen Charlotte Islands. The islands were initially named by white people in 1787. This was by Captain George Dixon, who named them after his ship, the Queen Charlotte. In 2010, the islands were officially renamed Haida Gwaii, which means "islands of the people".
When we first arrived in Masset and Old Masset (located at the North of Graham Island in Haida Gwaii), we explored the town, driving down every street and learning about the history of the place. Old Masset is one of the Haida villages that remained after the smallpox epidemic in the 19th century. Masset, 2 km away, became a major military location during WWII, and only in the mid 90s did the military downsize to a remote control operation. It went from having hundreds of employees to just a handful at this time. This website has a great history of the military in Masset.
The next stop was Port Clements: a small village located on the Masset Inlet which was previously visited by tourists for two main things: the Golden Spruce and the white raven. In 1997, the spruce was illegally felled by a man named Grant Hadwin, and the white raven was electrocuted on a power line in front of the Golden Spruce Hotel.
I'd reccommend reading the book "The Golden Spruce", written by John Vaillant about the life and demise of the famous golden spruce. Hadwin felled the hundreds of years old tree in protest of the forestry industry, and it was not taken well. Some wonderful girls that we met on the island brought us to see the acclaimed spruce tree, which was felled over a decade ago, and now sat horizontally on the forest floor.
Down in Skidegate, in the south of Graham Island, the Duke and Duchess arrived for a short visit a few days before we got to Haida Gwaii. During their trip in a traditional Haida canoe, a silent protest was happening. In protest of the Pacific NorthWest LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal that was just recently approved by the federal government, residents of Haida Gwaii wore their blue NO LNG shirts and held NO LNG signs. Here is a good site further explaining the issues surrounding LNG.
In Queen Charlotte, known locally as Charlotte or Charlotte City, we were walking down the main road and saw a beautiful stackwall fence in front of a house, so we went to speak with the owner. He invited us into his backyard, and we shot the s$!t for a while, as he prepared some salmon for canning.
Fishing and hunting is very important in Haida Gwaii. Many people rely primarily on a stocked freezer of fish and deer, and food from their gardens. Since food comes over weekly from the mainland, the milk and eggs and bread are often gone a few days after it arrives on Monday. It's important to be stocked up in winter, because sometimes the ferry will be cancelled for weeks at a time due to bad conditions in the Hecate straight (the area of ocean between mainland BC and Haida Gwaii).
And I will end this with a video of people on Haida Gwaii having a ball and singing to Taylor Swift.
Peace and love,
Well, we finished the Northern stretch (Northwest Territories and the Yukon) and are shallowly into the West Coast portion of our project! So far we have been in Haida Gwaii, probably the most beautiful place on earth. Haida Gwaii consists of a few islands off the West Coast of British Columbia. It is close to the southern tip of Alaska, and accessible by an ~8 hour ferry from Prince Rupert on the mainland in BC. It is also accessible by plane.
There is one highway that runs through all of the communities on Graham Island. And it is great, because travelling from one end to the other is only about 1.5 hours! So we travelled north and south a few times during our week here.
I had never heard of Haida Gwaii until about nine months ago, when I was talking to a treeplanter who told me of her friend who works here as a filmmaker. After that, I didn't stop hearing about the islands. Primarily, I borrowed The Golden Spruce - a book about a man who cut down an extremely important tree in Haida Gwaii - from a friend. Then a couple of my coworkers told me that they would be moving here in this upcoming year. So Derk and I did some extra research on the islands and realized that this trip just wouldn't be complete without a week in Haida Gwaii.
And so now we are here! And it's crazy, because it really enforces the idea, and the fact, that Canada is great. Like SO GREAT.
A woman who we spoke with in Yellowknife (the first place we went to on this trip) gave us the name of a friend of hers who currently lives in Haida Gwaii: Kung Jaadee (Judday), a Haida storyteller (also a published author: check it out here). We contacted Kung Jaadee and met with her, and she was just so amazing. Over the week that we have been on the islands, Kung Jaadee shared masses of information about the islands with us, shared dinner with us, let us sleep at her place, let us borrow dishes and cutlery for a public dinner, and drove us to where we needed to be. The amount of gratitude we have for her is enormous. The level of amazingness of our trip increased tremendously because of her.
We were also lucky enough to meet many other amazing people, and experience some truly special events:
-we spoke with a Haida man who was just so wonderful, the kind of man who had a million things in his list of things to do, and there is no doubt in his mind, or anyone else's, that he will get them done. He has carved many beautiful totem poles, and designed and built, with the help of 40 strong men and 100 strong children, a longhouse in the centre of Old Masset for public use. He is also a talented argillite carver, here is some of his work.
***Old Masset is a village just north of Masset. It is one of two villages where the Haida people regrouped in the late 1800s after the severe smallpox epidemic introduced by Europeans hit the islands and killed the majority of the population
-we spoke with an over-70-year-old woman who was quite an inspiration. She moved to Haida Gwaii after travelling half the world, after spending years in the North of Canada living off the land, and she immediately knew that this is where she was supposed to be. At seven and a half months pregnant (about 35ish years ago), she built a house for herself using her knowledge and the materials that she had at hand. This includes salvaged wood and rocks from the beach. WOW eh.
-we were invited to a potlatch, which according to Google is "a gift-giving feast practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada". Unsurprisingly (knowing the history of Canada), potlaches were banned by the Canadian government from 1884 to 1951, for many reasons, but generally because it was a major event showing Haida culture, and the government wasn't about that. But thank the gods that potlatches are being practiced again, because they are amazing communal events.
The potlatch really, truly was a gift-giving feast. Kristel and I arrived around 5:30 pm, and sat at the back of the massive community hall, likely filled with about 400 people. Food was served to us the whole night. There was potato and salmon soup, crab, lots and lots of salmon, more fish, more fish, and more fish. Then there were hundreds of pies, and many, many cups of delicious frozen berries. All the while, there was beautiful traditional dances and music. Many speeches followed, and many people received new Haida names, including children, and adoptees. David Suzuki was adopted into the Haida nation at this potlatch. That was quite a sight to see.
-as treeplanters, we were intrigued to meet so many Coastal planters, those who live on Haida Gwaii, and work here as tree planters in the spring. We met JP and Sid, planters who have worked here for at least nine years, and just recently bought a house on the island. How we met them was quite a story as well: Kristel and I were walking down the road with our friend Donnie, and to our left JP, then unknown to us, yelled from his front porch: "Hey, do you want some fish!?" And so we met JP and Sid. So that was great, really great.
So verdict of the story: go to Haida Gwaii if you get the chance. Everything is just the best here.
Peace and love,