The song of Haida carvers echoed off the rocks and calm water at the Hiellen River mouth on June 21, the summer solstice.
With Master Carver Christian White steering, and eight apprentices paddling, carver Corey Bulpitt stood at the bow dressed as a Xuuajii, or grizzly bear — one of the creatures whose story is told on the 51-foot cedar totem pole they came to raise on National Aboriginal Day.
Waiting on shore were all the helping hands: hundreds of people who spent the day at Hiellen playing games, sharing food, listening to songs, dancing, and finally hoisting the monumental pole by the east bank of the Hiellen River before a enjoying a salmon and clam-fritter barbecue.
Inspired by a pole that stood at Hiellen village from 1820 to 1920, Haida Gwaii’s newest monumental pole holds a few surprises, just like the carvers’ surprise entrance from water around Taaw Hill.
“If you look closely, the two side watchmen are actually watchwomen,” said Christian White to loud cheers as he pointed to the three figures on top, up above the Raven who honours Hiellen as a Raven clan village.
“Haida women uphold our culture,” he said.
White also spoke about the faces in the eyes of some of the supernatural beings on the pole — kids had asked about them while the pole was still in the Old Massett carving shed.
“I told them that’s your reflection,” said White.
“When the children look into the eyes of these supernatural beings, they will see their own reflection there.”
Apprentices Daisy White, Shaylanna Brown, Jennica Bell, Tiffany Boyko, Captain Stewart-Burton, Shane Bell, Paul Biron, and Jay Bellis all danced and spoke at the raising, where the pole was also blessed with eagle down.
Joining them were artists Vernon White and Derek White, and carving assistants Corey Bulpitt, Roger Smith, and Gwaliga Hart.
“It’s beautiful to see everyone in their regalia, and to hear them speak their Haida names in Xaad Kil,” said Jasḵwaan Bedard, who emceed the raising.
“You have also shown us strength and continuity,” she said to White.
“This is a beautiful showcasing here of what it means to pass on knowledge among all of your apprentices.”