In the Field

  • Jul. 6, 2012 3:00 p.m.

Written by Jordie Laidlaw, submitted by Gwaii Haanas –Who would have realized that pole conservation would include mowing the lawn? A team of Gwaii Haanas staff and Haida Gwaii Watchmen recently set to work on SGang Gwaay cutting grass, clearing streams, clipping vegetation and trimming trees to help extend the life of the iconic poles and longhouse remains in the village.Weathered by the wind and rain, the poles at SGang Gwaay are deteriorating at a steady rate. Cutting the grass prevents moisture build-up around the poles while removing saplings keeps their roots from growing in and cracking the wood. These methods follow the ideals of the Haida hereditary chiefs: the poles are to return to the earth the natural way. When the chiefs were consulted in 1995, the idea of using superhuman conservation efforts such as impregnating the poles with chemicals was ruled out instead non-invasive methods are used.Gwaii Haanas staff Helene Chabot, Camille Collinson, Debby Gardiner, Nadine Wilson and Ginette Pineault spent seven days on the remote island helping to do this work. Also assisting were the Haida Gwaii Watchmen on site – Jordan Yeltatzie and Garrett Russ with Shirley Wilson as chef.In the 1970s, the provincial museum in Victoria was using similar techniques. But in 1994, Captain Gold (Richard Wilson) informed Gwaii Haanas staff that four of the poles in SGang Gwaay were in danger of falling over. After consulting with hereditary chiefs, the decision to straighten the poles was made. Directed by archaeologist Daryl Fedje, Gwaii Haanas staff excavated a circle 5 feet deep around the poles and constructed steel scaffolds and pulleys around them. Over a period of 3 weeks, the poles were straightened. In the end, workers managed to straighten three mortuary poles but the large memorial pole was found to be more fragile than anticipated and could not be straightened without risking it collapsing. Local knowledge is sometimes the best kind of knowledge in these situations. According to present day Field Unit Superintendent Ernie Gladstone, who was part of the pole straightening team, the contracted engineers couldn’t find a way to safely lift and straighten the poles. “No one wanted to be remembered for knocking a pole over,” he said. Fed up with waiting, Tucker Brown designed a scaffolding and pulley system himself; the engineers said the structure would be more than enough and better than anything they could have designed themselves. Thanks to Tucker’s design and the team’s efforts, visitors to SGang Gwaay can still see the poles, upright and standing against the wind.