Old Massett

May 13, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Lion


Bright rays of sunlight and an equally warm smile greeted us as we crossed the threshold into the home of Haida Chief Jim Hart. A delicate lattice of cards traverse the ceiling over a worktable teeming with purpose and meaning in the center of the space. Jim began his dialogue fondly describing the quaint home he himself built and the intricate process by which his art unfolds and takes tangible form; “I know every nail, they are all my friends.” Often traveling to share his unique talent with the world, the chance to meet this remarkably talented and humble carver was indeed a fortunate opportunity. Equally as the powerful as the poignant skill seen in works such as an extraordinary cast bronze statue with a weathered-copper patina was Jim’s ability to tell his story.

Just down the road a short ways, already allowing this stunning culture unlike any other to permeate our experience, we eagerly welcomed the opportunity to meet Jim’s cousin, fellow carver Christian White. His storytelling too proved another testament to the immense value this oral art form and tradition continues to play in Haida culture. We moved through several exceptional spaces, including Christian’s workshop. It was here he described the process by which his art comes to life. Even in winter months, intricate plans, diligence, and several layers of clothing have made it possible for Christian to magically transform a once towering cedar tree into an astonishing totem pole, stretching the near length of the building among other wooden marvels stored here. The people of Haida Gwaii find strength in their heritage and community, and their oral history is as rich as the regal shades of turquoise and burgundy found in their art.

Our experience in Haida Gwaii was culminated by sharing a meal of traditional Haida food with the Haida people. Our bodies were nourished by several varieties of seafood, fish chowders, seaweeds, fried bread, and other native delicacies. The meal was filled with fellowship and topped by a dessert of huckleberry cake, soapberry foam, and Labrador tea. Following this wonderful feast, the Haida people shared a performance of meaningful songs and dances, inviting all to join in the ancient tradition. Throughout the room, laughter and smiles characterized the mood. The air was cloaked with an immense gratitude and appreciation for the sanctity, simplicity, and beauty of life. The Haida people wished us safe travels on our journey north in this tender goodbye gesture. With immense thankfulness, we departed from our guide Linda Tollas, and although we will travel onward to the mystical magic of Alaska, an integral part of each of us was touched by the people of Haida Gwaii.

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About the Author

Megan Jefferson

Guest Speaker

Megan Jefferson is a special education teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, where she teaches students with autism in a Communication and Learning Support classroom. Megan is an alumni Teach for America teacher with the Kansas City corps, where she began her journey as an educator. Passionate about helping students discover their strengths and lead purposeful lives, she believes teaching about the world allows her students to in turn understand themselves and their connection to the planet. Megan integrates her love of art, photography, nature, science, and exploratory learning into novel classroom experiences, and strives to create opportunities for her students to interact in the community.

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