From contact, to smallpox epidemic, to clear-cutting to reconciliation sealed with a potlatch.
This in brief is what has passed with the Haida Gwaii since European settlers alighted, recounted by The New York Times in its first travel section of 2014. The First Nation archipelago off the west coast of British Columbia has been working to attract tourists by way of teaching about its culture, which goes back millennia, and the newspaper was there for the raising of its first monumental pole in 130 years.
The New York Times, noting that the original Haida name means “Islands Emerging From (Supernatural) Concealment,” brings forth the mystery of the landscape and draws attention to the stark contrast between the clear-cut hillsides, just beginning to grow back with “an emerald-hued crew cut” of young alder and spruce, and the majestic old growth that pitted generation against generation in the fight against logging decades ago.
Together, though, they add up to a rebirth, one that was punctuated by the potlatch, attended by Canadian officials as well as numerous tourists and other visitors, that celebrated the raising of the pole in November 2013. There, in a blending of traditional, ancient and modern, were the former foes: The elders who had stood firm against the loggers in the 1980s; the then-young Haida Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who had been forced to arrest them, the tears in his eyes masked by the rain; and dignitaries from the Canadian government.
Together they celebrated a ritual that had been outlawed between 1884 and 1951, “making the event a poignant symbol of progress,” the newspaper said.
The pole-raising also celebrated the 20th year since the founding of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, a model and template for indigenous stewardship in cooperation with the federal government.
Read the full New York Times story, Raising a Pole on the ‘Islands of the People.’