The sun will hardly dip below the horizon on the day a new pole is raised by the Hiellen River.
On June 21, the summer solstice and National Aboriginal Day, the 51-foot red cedar pole will be the first raised by Hiellen in nearly 200 years.
Led by Haida master carver Christian White, Kilthguulans, it is the combined work of several young Haida apprentices as well as carvers Derek and Vernon White, Corey Bullpit, and Roger Smith.
“I’m really blessed — I love this,” said Tiffany Boyko, speaking in White’s bustling carving shed, where fellow carvers were at work by the Tluu Xaada Naay longhouse.
“It feels natural, which is a good thing.”
Starting in December, when she joined Haida elders and apprentices for a first-cut ceremony, Boyko has helped transform a 600-year-old cedar tree into a monumental pole modelled on one raised at Hiellen in 1820.
Cut down and removed to Prince Rupert a century later, the original stood in that city for 45 years before it returned to Old Massett, where it is stored today, crumbling in parts but still valuable for teaching.
“I’ve seen the bits that are left, down the village,” said Boyko.
“I don’t even remember the last time I’ve seen an old pole other than in a museum.”
Some of the faded carvings on the old pole were traced onto the new one and carved more deeply.
Several of the original figures — such as Raven stealing the light, or Man with Eagle skin — are carved larger on the modern pole.
Boyko points to the three Haida watchmen poised on top. Two are women, wearing labrets.
“My daughter just returned from being a watchman at SGang Gwaay,” said Christian White, adding that he and his wife have been watchmen, too.
“Men and women were equal, in our culture. There were women warriors in the old days — they owned their own property, their own canoes,” he said.
“They lived in their husband’s town, their husband’s house, but they were respected in those houses.”
White said eight apprentices is the most he has ever worked with, but it has gone well, as they each learned their tools and worked in stages. The group includes Daisy White, Shaylana Brown, Jennica Bell, Tiffany Boyko, Jay Bellis, Captain Stewart-Burton, Shane Bell, and Paul Biron.
Corey Bulpitt, who apprenticed with White in 1999, flew up from Vancouver to help finish the Hiellen pole. Over the years, he has returned to work on the Tluu Xaada Naay longhouse and its interior pole, on masks and a house screen, potlatch gifts and smaller poles.
“We put in time that’s our own time for our culture,” said Bulpitt. “There’s more involved than in just making the art.”
Along with Christian White, Bulpitt worked many times with the late artist Beau Dick in Alert Bay.
“He always had an entourage, 10 or 15 carvers at all times almost,” said Bulpitt, laughing. Both he and White “do more for the community than any other carvers I’ve ever seen,” he added.
“Maybe there’s a couple others I don’t know, but their focus is on ceremony, using their own money to pay for things like this — Beau would pay for his potlatches, just to keep things going the way they’re supposed to go.”
Sponsors for the project include Old Massett Village Council, Canada Council for the Arts, the BC Arts Council, Service Canada, Skills Link, TriCorp, the Vancouver Foundation, as well as master carvers Robert Davidson, Jim Hart, and the Tluu Xaada Naay Society.
After the pole is standing in a sunny clearing on the east side of the Hiellen River, White said one day he would like to see a roofed, open-air building put up behind it, for weddings and other public events.
“It’s just because it sometimes rains, once in a while around here,” he said, smiling.
White said islanders can expect a few surprises at the June 21 pole raising, which is scheduled for 2 p.m., following a community meal at 11:30 a.m. and a noon talk by Dr. Suzanne Simard. A salmon barbecue will follow.
Due to limited parking, Tow Hill Road will be closed to most vehicle traffic all day from the Agate Beach parking lot to Hiellen longhouse village. A shuttle bus will take people between Agate Beach and Hiellen.
“I’m hoping to see many islanders there, many people that love Haida Gwaii, to show their pride at being from Haida Gwaii,” said White.
“Be there or be square.”