Just before first light National Geographic Sea Bird made the final slow approach to her anchorage off Anthony Island. This tiny island is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sgang Gwaay, an ancient Haida village. The original village was home to approximately five hundred Kunghit Haidas who chose this site for its extreme protection from the exposed sweep of the Pacific Ocean. Sgang Gwaay is considered the most secluded and protected of all the major Haida villages. Located on the eastern side of the island, it is also protected by an islet in front of the village site; there is a small, narrow channel easily navigable by canoes.
Today we went ashore in groups of twelve; one group walked through the forest while the other group visited the village site. Moving toward the village, a short walk from our landing beach brought us within view of totems and the remains of a large house partially dug into the ground. Seventeen houses once occupied Sgang Gwaay. It was a healthy, long-standing, and vibrant village of Haidas who traded throughout their territory, with visitors often coming to trade in their village.
We were escorted throughout this Haida site by a Watchman. The Haida Nation established the Watchman program as a way of protecting ancestral sites and maintaining a presence to educate visitors. Our Watchman, Grace, shared a deep knowledge of each historic Haida totem and house; she also added her own family stories to bring the past, present, and future closer to us as visitors.
While some guests visited the Haida site, the remainder of our traveling companions were cruising in Zodiacs to explore the outer reaches of Anthony Island. They observed many seabirds, and a sizeable colony of harbor seals on a sheltered beach at the island’s southern end. As our day progressed the groups switched, and everyone had a chance on land and in the sea.
We were at the southernmost tip of our journey in Haida Gwaii. The beauty and rawness of the land impacted everyone. With gratitude for a warm day and a light breeze, we all adjourned to the sun deck for cocktail hour. We shared stories and moments that made this visit to Sgang Gwaay such a special experience. Along the Northwest Coast we learned about the many treasures that can be found hiding in plain sight. They touched our hearts and created many special moments on our journey together.