Haida children welcomed home at celebration

  • Sep. 26, 2007 4:00 p.m.

By Judy McKinleyThere are few things more delightful in life than when a child has one of those smiles that seems to cover their whole face, when their whole body is beaming, when they are literally shaking with excitement.Those are some of the emotions sparked in the children welcomed home at this weekend’s Haida Homecoming Celebration. Fifteen young people, all Haida children in foster care, came home to Haida Gwaii. After a full weekend of activities, which included celebrations in Skidegate, tours of the museum and drum-making, the festivities culminated in a celebration dinner on Sunday night in the George M. Dawson gym.The hall was full to capacity with well-wishers. Chief Sgaan7wi7waans, Alan Wilson, first spoke to the children, welcoming them to Haida Gwaii. He told the hall how the children were greeted on a full ferry as they first arrived: “Guujaaw had them singing for every vehicle, we didn’t want us to miss one.” He recognized the role of the caregivers and talked about how powerful this homecoming was: “The Haida nation is very strong, our children are very important.” And, he promised, “this is only a taste of what’s to come.” The importance of the children was highlighted throughout the evening. The agenda included a signing of protocol with the Carrier Sekani nation, a mutual agreement with the Haida nation to raise each nation’s children according to their respective hereditary customs; and a signing of protocol with the RCMP, to work together for the best interests of families and children in need.And it was an evening of welcome, celebration, recognition and belonging. Traditional dancers and singers of all ages kept the hall vibrant, returnees joining in a “big intermingling of children” as Chief Sgaan7wi7waans described the weekend, the ‘new kids’ at first shy but then dancing with gusto, local kids gamely demonstrating the moves of the raven dance, the jaadaa dancing.Each family had their own stories. At one table sat three homecoming children with the great-grandfather and great aunt they had only met once before, their caregivers, and their biological mother. They all show off the argillite pedants given to them by their Tsinni, and hug variously over the course of the evening their mum, their mum, their Tsinni, their dad. The boy, the oldest, whispered over the table about his Tsinni: “you’ll have to talk loud, he has a little trouble hearing”, and he is solicitous all evening, making sure Tsinni has cake to eat and can see how many pictures he has taken on his camera. He tells the rest of his family how to make a drum, and says he will get an eagle vest later in the evening. The girls jostle each other, garbed in red vests made by their auntie. They are sometimes rambunctious, sometime shy, burying their face in Tsinni’s jacket when someone new comes by. The stories are repeated all over the room: a community, and all of who the children know as family, coming together to ensure these Haida children know they have a home.This acknowledgement of home, clan and biological family was formalized at the end of the evening. Each child introduced her or himself to their community and each one was warmly recognized. “Thank you for coming,” they said to the audience, already able to face a full hall of people, “Ha’awaa”, “I want to be here” and “I like fishing”. Biological family and caregivers stood together with each child as their Haida family presented them with vests, hats, a jumper with their clan crests. “We commit,” said one mother, “even though we don’t live here, to raising her as Haida” making sure she knows who she is and that she is connected here, that she knows her family is here.The dinner had started at 5 pm. Although it had already been a full weekend, and it was now 10 pm, the kids still had lots of energy for dancing. The now eagle -vested great-grandson collapses in his chair, winded from dancing three straight songs. “Tsinni”, he said breathlessly, “Tsinni, did you see me dance?”