May 16, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Bird
Throughout the night, we crossed Hecate Strait. By morning, we’d arrived in Rose Harbor in the southernmost portion of the Pacific Northwest archipelago of Haida Gwaii and the ancestral home of the Haida Nation. There, we picked up Elsie Stewart-Burton, who is called IL ‘skide in Haida, to be our cultural guide and interpreter.
Elsie lives in Skidegate, so she flew in from Queen Charlotte City by floatplane in order to travel aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird with us. By mid-morning, we dropped anchor at the island of SGang Gwaay, which is a part of Gwaii Haanus, the UNESCO world heritage area of Haida Gwaii. Our mission was to take a guided tour of the ancient Haida village of SGang Gwaay Linagaay.
In SGang Gwaay Linagaay are the remains of cedar-carved mortuary and memorial poles, created for burial and ceremonial purposes 300 years ago, as well as the foundations of the original SGang Gwaay Linagaay lodges. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the three watchmen of SGang Gwaay, Cliff, David, and Jessica. They were our escorts through the village.
In our group, David told us about his history as a Haida man in Haida Gwaii and his observations of the changes he’s noticed in the poles over his 18 years of service as a watchman. He described the Eagle and Raven moieties, which are fundamental to Haida family lineage. As we walk through the village and along the beach to the watchman’s house, we were in awe of the blowdown of great hemlock trees from an unusually strong winter storm. We continued through a rich spruce and hemlock forest that bisects the island, and we relaxed and reflected for a few precious moments by a sea cove. Then we retraced our steps back to the beach where our expedition landing craft were waiting.
In the evening, Elsie graciously shared a Haida song to calm the waters of Hecate Strait, using a rattle that she made from a native mussel and stones from the beach. She continued to share stories and descriptions of Haida language, art, the people of Haida Gwaii, and the rich treasures of Haida Gwaii that have fed and protected the Haida since time immemorial.
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