Pole-raising celebration attracts over 300 people

  • Jan. 17, 2007 12:00 p.m.

By Charlotte Tarver–Children danced, chiefs and matriarchs spoke and clan songs were sung to officially honour the raising of the three old poles in the Haida Heritage Centre at Qay’llnagaay last Sunday (January 14). Over 300 people from all island communities came to witness the historic event, including all the hereditary leaders or their representatives. “This is a proud day for me and for everyone here” said Chief Skidegate Dempsey Collinson, when he opened the ceremonies. The raising of these old poles is not in keeping with Haida tradition. In the past, old poles were not preserved and were allowed to decompose back into the earth once they fell. “There’s always controversy within the Haida Nation, it makes you examine what we do in keeping alive this culture, this land and this relationship,” said CHN President Guujaaw. “Some people think the poles should go back to the earth but it is good to have these old poles, to bring them back alive and to see them standing again.” “The kind of thoughts evoked by these poles…they make us think of the creators of the poles, the carvers, and to admire how they made these poles in those times, with the tools they had,” he said about the poles, carved in the 1870s and 1880s. “I’m amazed to see you dreamed the big dream… amazed by the Haida’s ability to see where they came from and where they are going,” said MP Nathan Cullen, a guest speaker at the event, on the islands for a couple of days. One highlight of the ceremonies was the performance by Hlgagilda, the Skidegate dance group. Children aged 3 to 14, in Haida cloaks, capes, head dresses and masks, danced 5 traditional dances in front of the poles to the drumming and singing of the Skidegate group Hl Taaxuulang Guud Ad K’aajuu “Friends Together Singing”. Three dancers explained the names and stories told in each dance and Chavonne Guthrie said “Our culture will carry on in us, the children.” Other highlights were the clan songs and dances performed for each pole. Arthur Pearson and his daughter danced the Raven-Wolf Tanu pole while Vern Williams of Old Massett sang a clan song he composed a couple of years ago. Nika Collison, co-Master of Ceremonies, said to the people attending “Thank you for honouring your invitation, you are all witnesses to this event and we will pay you at the end of the ceremony.” She was referring to the traditional giving of gifts to guests at a feast. The museum board gave gifts to everyone at the end of the event. “Its a beautiful thing, seeing the living clans sing their songs,” she continued. Nathalie Macfarlane, Director of the Haida Gwaii Museum, explained the history of each pole. The two poles from Tanu were removed from the village in the 1930s by BC Packers and taken to Prince Rupert where they stood until the 1960s. In 1976 these poles were returned to the Haida Gwaii Museum to store. They were the first poles ever repatriated in BC. The Beaver Pole of Skidegate fell down in the mid-1980s and was taken to Vancouver. It returned to the islands two years ago. All poles laid prone in the museum until they were raised in the new gallery. Ms Macfarlane thanked the clans who owned the poles for allowing them to be once again raised and placed inside the museum for preservation. “The poles were sleeping for many years and now hanks to the ancestors they are standing upright,” said Ms Macfarlane. A standing ovation was given to the 8 men who did the work to ready the gallery and prepare the poles for raising. Nika called Arthur Pearson of Skidegate, the foreman of the crew, “an engineering genius” for figuring out how to raise the up to 45-foot long poles in the tight space of the new museum space. “There were lots of scary times and lots of laughing, too,” said Mr. Pearson. “All the poles are so delicate, especially the Beaver Pole – all of our hearts were thumping when they were raised.” “You (people attending) are breathing life into this building,” said Dean Nomura, President of the Haida Gwaii Museum Society. Nomura thanked the many people who worked hard towards building the centre. He thanked Skidegate Elder Pearle Pearson, a founding director of the Haida Gwaii Museum Society, for her long dedication to the vision to someday having a heritage centre in Skidegate. The area in the Heritage Centre where the poles now stand is in the new expanded space of the 30-year old museum. The museum part of the Heritage Centre is expected to be open to the public before July 1.