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,