Historic feast caps off special week

  • Aug. 23, 2013 8:00 a.m.

by Kevin LaGroix–The sound of beating drums reverberated through the Skidegate hall on Saturday as hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the Legacy pole raising two days earlier at Windy Bay. The tables, bleachers, even the upstairs of the hall were filled to capacity for this historic event. The line up to enter was long as guests arrived early. The highway was filled with cars and buses from the north end arrived to ensure a strong northern presence, just as it was at Lyell Island in 1985. When the hall doors opened, it was frantic as people scurried to find a seat, as some tables were reserved for elders, Chiefs and dignitaries. The end of each table was reserved for an elder, making it easy for servers to accommodate the wishes of the elder. The hall filled quickly and we were having a hard time finding two seats together when Lois Helmer-Rullin spotted us and ensured we were seated in a location handy for photos. A big Haaw’aa to Lois. Natalie Fournier was one of the MCs and she started off by welcoming everyone, including Haida, non-Haida, Islanders, Mainlanders and visitors. Many of the onlookers both Haida and non-Haida were wearing regalia, making this even more of a colourful event. The first visitor was the wildman who entered the building to the drumming of Robert Davidson who pounded out a beat on a very large box drum on which a wildman was depicted in Haida style art. The wildman came in with the thunder of the drum and left just as quickly. The many onlookers were astonished at the almost 7 foot tall figure with such menacing features as it made it’s way to the drum and Mr. Davidson. The wildman was followed by the drumming of Terri-Lynn Davidson and her husband Robert as the Grand Procession of Chiefs entered the building. This was a truly amazing sight as the many chiefs of the Haida Nation, many in full regalia entered one at a time to the announcement of their names in both official island languages. Jason then took over the microphone and thanked all the visitors for sharing in the celebration. Jason is one of the CHN’s representative on the management board and a feast facilitator along with Natalie Fournier, Camille Collinson and Ernie Gladstone. Jason called upon Diane Brown to give the event a blessing and this was done very colourfully and fluently in the Skidegate Haida. Ernie Gladstone talked about the incredible year it has been in preparation for the pole raising and the fact that it has been 20 years since the agreement with the federal government. Ernie said he “was proud to be a member of the Gwaii Haanas team.” Thursday’s pole raising was a tremendous success and the emails from all over the world started to pour in afterward from places such as Barcelona, Spain where one person watched the live stream, to the newspapers in Germany where the raising was section one news. Mr. Gladstone talked about a little of the history of the fight to protect South Moresby. He related how as far back as 1974 the Skidegate Band Council was approached to halt the logging on Burnaby Island. This continued with the formation of the Haida Watchmen program in 1981. In 1985, the Haida claimed that Lyell Island was protected and logging was asked to be halted. This was looked upon as not possible by the government and the loggers of the day, thus paving the way for the civil disruption that followed. Ernie explained that the protest led to the logging halt signed by both the federal and provincial governments in 1987. Then in 1988 the South Moresby agreement was signed and 106 million dollars was set aside for the development of South Moresby and formation of the Gwaii Trust. In 1993 all parties signed the historic Gwaii Haanas agreement and this is still called an agreement before its time. Its mandate is to ensure protection for future generations. This future for the Haida and non-Haida people is to provide food for Haida, to provide monumental wood for poles and longhouses and wood etc. for other cultural projects. At this time, a screen was set up and the video of the pole raising shown. The audience erupted in cheers as the pole was seen rising to face the view of Windy Bay. It was here that carver Jaalen Edenshaw was called upon to describe the choices of figures used on the pole. Some that were mentioned were the eagle and raven, which are the traditional Haida main crests. The eagle is at the very top of the pole and at the very bottom is the sculpin. This is to signify the protection of Gwaii Haanas from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the ocean. The watchmen are carved into the pole to show the protection of this sacred land prior to the agreement. Two more figures are the important blockade line and below, the grizzly bear. Thanks to the saving of this pristine area, it has been discovered that grizzly bears once roamed the lands. The Wasco or wildman is depicted as he represents the earthquakes felt from time to time. Jaalen had many people to thank for all the help he received. To carve a pole is a monumental task and Gwaii thanked Tyler York for being there the whole time with him. Johnny Bennett was thanked for his couple of weeks of assistance. Guujaaw was instrumental in all the advice given to Jaalen. The Davidson brothers, Robert and Reggie, were acknowledged for their input. The painters were thanked as was Jeff for the copper work. Donnie Edenshaw was present at the pole raising and showed why he is known as one of Haida Gwaii’s most powerful dancers. Donnie cancelled his trip to Panama for dancing so that he could stay behind and be a part of this pole raising and to be there for Jaalen as Jaalen has been there for Donnie and his pole raisings. Diane Brown was thanked for her blessing of the pole. Jaalen mentioned the youth who paddled the canoe into Windy Bay and said these are our future leaders and it was inspiring to see the youth so taken by the culture and becoming a big part. Jaalen finished by thanking all the people who in the 1970s and 80s stood their ground and protected what could not protect itself, and his last words were, “this is why we’re all here, haaw’aa.” Many of the hereditary chiefs made speeches and one of the more compelling stories was from Chief Alan Wilson. Alan had spent over 25 years as an RCMP officer and was present on the other side of the blockade at Lyell Island. During an evening before one confrontation, the RCMP visited the protesters and told them how the arrests would be handled and could people please respect each other. It was here that Nonnie Ethel Jones went to Alan and said, ” If anyone is going to arrest me, I want it to be you.” She went on to tell Alan “not to worry and just do your job.” Alan took these words to heart as he felt torn by what he felt in his heart, what was right, and what his responsibilities were as a constable. Alan Latourelle took to the podium and as the head of Parks Canada had a lot to say about the co-operation between the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada. He said Gwaii Haanas was a great place to be protected and that the courage and trust shown by both parties over the years is for the greater good of Haida Gwaii. Mr. Latourelle thanked the carvers and said this was “one of his proudest days ever to be a Canadian.” Gwaii Haanas is still the only place in Canada where the Parks uniforms reflect the First Nations Culture. Alan, who hails from Ottawa, also said this is an amazing place to protect and will be here for future generations. Council of Haida Nation President Peter Lantin said there was an unbelievable sense of pride leading up to the raising, as young and old joined together. Peter said this is about aboriginal rights and the original protest was to protect the Haida way. He made one of the most profound statements of the evening when he said, “We don’t have to give up our rights to make agreements with the government.” Peter then called up the CHN representatives and thanked them for the dedication and hard work. Former CHN President Guujaaw received a special award for his years of service. He was given a beautifully blue paint bear designed drum. This is especially symbolic as his name means drum. Guujaaw accepted the honourable gift and then Donnie Edenshaw broke in the drum by singing and drumming another song. Once again the audience was treated to the powerful singing of Donnie as he led the crowd in song. The drum was fabricated by master drum maker Vern Williams of Old Massett. Next it was time to honour those who stood in the line so long ago and changed the future of the south island forever. About 60 people got up and stood side by side, arm in arm, to signify what they did back in the 1980s. The people who have left us in recent years were honoured as well. The crowd took to their feet in a standing ovation and the Lyell Island song was heard by all. Nika Collison then told about the stories that were told at the Windy Bay site. Some of the stories told about how all people came from the ocean and became more human over time. She mentioned that the first trees on Haida Gwaii were the pine and recent research has confirmed this. First it was pine, followed by spruce, hemlock and then cedar. Science has recently confirmed this as well. Nika said that when the earthquake hit we lost the hot springs and this is why we should always appreciate what we have. Percy Williams rose to speak and received a huge ovation. Percy said, “it is like a dream come true today.” The wiley chief supported the original protest even though he thought at first it might be impossible. A group of young men asked the council back then for support and Percy made sure they received it. Kevin Stringer spoke about the five principles that the archipelago management board (AMB) is based on, 1) Showing respect; 2) Working together; 3) Balancing protection and economic sustainability; 4) Fostering innovation; 5) Accountability and openness. Thursday’s pole raising brought all five of those principles to light. Russ Jones remembers the days before the blockade when he would travel to South Moresby with his Chinni. “This is a day to celebrate” he said. He said the AM has to be careful not to allow overfishing and the team will work to try and protect more of the 3 percent that is currently protected from fishing. People from around the world have come to study the management plan so they can emulate the success found here. The Massett dancers led by Christian White took to the floor after the wonderful dinner and had the young ladies come up to strut their stuff during the ladies dance. Not to be left out, Christian had the young men up for the difficult man dance. He thanked the RCMP for their escort of the youth paddlers on the canoe down to Windy Bay and the co-operation of the former foes to the blockade. Jaalen, his brother Gwaii and Tyler York were invited to join in the grad dance and the floor was alive once more with youth dancing and showing us all the future of Haida is strong. There was a couple of quote by Reg Young that were inspiring to all. He said, ” I’m looking down the road, and the road is getting shorter.” He followed with “the future is getting our kids into post secondary education.” The final dance group of the evening was the world renowned Robert Davidson. Robert brought out his oystercatcher mask and it was held in awe by all. The audience still in attendance at the end received gifts as at all Haida potlatches. Looking back at the original protest it can be said that Lyell Island and the South Moresby archipelago was the beginning of a long list of protest to protect special areas. Soon after Lyell, it was Oka, then Clayoquot Sound, the Khutzemateen and more. It proved that big business does not always get its way when what is being saved is worth much more than what would be lost.