Formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, the people of Haida Gwaii took back the name of their island and their heritage. They have been inspiring examples of how a First Nations group can take back their culture.
I am sure Steph and I were not alone in not knowing where or what the islands of Haida Gwaii were or represented. I find us Canadians are so spoiled with the riches of a vast and beautiful country that we overlook so much of its beauty. Haida Gwaii is breathtaking in both scenery and culture, it is an absolute must on anyone’s travel list.
The Haida people were a clear highlight of our trip to the islands. They were so friendly and had such a strong sense of culture. It was inspiring to hear them talk about their ancestors and their history. Archaeologists and their elders agree that their people have lived on the islands of Haida Gwaii for over 14 000 years. Their stories and oral history line up remarkably well with the fossil record. For example, they tell a story about a great beast that was more fierce and destructive than any black bear they knew. It killed many men and was sighted mainly on one part of the island. Researchers later went into the area and found a cave with the skeleton of a grizzly bear (which are not native to the islands). Around the skeleton they also found several arrow heads!
On our boat tour with Haida-Style Expeditions, we were taken to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. There we met the Watchmen, Haida men and women who took posts on various important islands to protect them and their artifacts from tourists and also serve as interpreters. A local elder named Jags guided our tours of the islands, telling stories of his people. He was a powerful speaker and only struggled when trying to keep the ancient stories of his people brief, or when talking about the atrocities his people endured.
Haida will do anything for someone in need. A legitimate form of transportation found in travel books and blogs is to hitchhike! They loved to show off their land, tell stories, and share their culture. We attended Skidegate days in a small town and were welcomed into the festivities.
Another of our highlights was attending “Dining with the Kings”. A retired couple hosted people in their home for a night, serving gourmet food in a 3 course meal. Their dining room was transformed on weekends into a 20 person dining lounge! It was an amazing and intimate experience that was just so typical for Haida Gwaii.
We were quite sad to leave the island and no doubt will be back sometime in the future!