Monday, May 30, 2011

The First Chief's Pole in A Hundred Years

I travel with a camera attached to my hand always! So on the single most important day in Skidegate's history I forget my camera!  I made a quick stop 30 minutes before the pole raising and a friend loaned me a camera. The camera was new to me so I didn't realize it was set on video mode so the first 18 shots are actually mini videos.  When I tried to download the photos to my computer the camera batteries were dead, no problem I always carry spares, oops wrong ones!  I take the chip out of the camera to download from it, my computer or my lack of knowledge doesn't allow the download!  Return the camera to charge the battery, the charger can not be found,  two days later I get a call the battery is charged!  I also had to learn how to capture still photos from video.  I hope the wait was worth it!
 The totem pole was moved to the sight where it was to be raised the day before the pole raising.  The pole was going up in front of Chief Wigaanad Sid Crosby's home.  On the porch are five "coppers" which in the Northwest Coast Native culture is a symbol of wealth.
 Chief Wiigaanad Sid Crosby(second from right), his wife Cindy(right), Cindy's brother Master Carver Tim Boyko(centre) and other family members.
 The "Boss Lady" and her auntie.  The Haida are a Matriarchal society so Cindy really is the "Boss Lady".  If you are Haida you are either an Eagle or a Raven and if you are one you must marry the other.  Chief Wiigaanad is Eagle and Cindy is a Raven.  Children follow the mother's moiety so the next chief of the Skidegate Gidins would be Cindy's brother's first born son.  Cindy is wearing a beautiful interpretation of a "button blanket".
 Another beautiful eagle blanket and cedar hat.  Cedar bark is stripped from the Western Red Cedar or Yellow Cedar, peeled into thin strips, soaked and woven into these beautiful rain proof hats.  The flare on the hat sends the rain off the shoulders.  Red cedar bark is strong with long fibres and was/is used for making baskets, rope, hats and when felted capes, leggings and aprons and was also woven with mountain goat wool for additional warmth and beauty.
 There is strong tradition in the raising of a pole.  Diane Brown is blessing the pole, next the carver and his apprentices will dance around the pole and breath life into it, family members will be invited to place trade beads in the hole(rumour has it that in the old days they would place a slave in the hole!) and the chief's permission is asked to raise the pole.
 Traditionally the pole would be raised with four to six ropes and upwards of 25 to 50 or more people on each line.  Because this pole was going up between two houses a block and tackle system was used with the additional help of people.  As the pole is slowly raised a timber crib is created to support the pole as it goes up.  On the right hand side of this photo just above the rope pulley(orange tape) you will see a piece of 2x4.  Just after I took this photo that rope broke and the piece of 2x4 and the whipping rope struck two children and an adult.  The kids where more fightened than hurt however the spectator/photographer/nurse was struck with the 2x4 breaking his arm, camera and several ribs.  He was stabilized on scene by no less than 3 doctors and 3 fellow nurses, taken to hospital in Queen Charlotte and then air medivac to Vancouver where he is recovering well. 
 An hour and a half later the pole was raised(the yellow rope is the new line) without further incident.
 The pole is forty feet tall with the Wasco(sea bear) holding a killer whale on the bottom, a raven representing  Cindy , a dog fish(where the blankets and ropes are) and an eagle on top. 
Once the pole is straight, the hole is filled in with rocks(the pole is buried 15' deep) and sand.
 Throughout the pole raising Chief Wiigaanad watched ...someone is hired to raise the pole. 
 Cindy and friends watched and waited from a respectfully distance.
 When it was finally raised there was a collective sigh of relief and cheer!
 If you look carefully you will see five eagles.  If I had not been there to witness this I would not have believed it.  As the pole was being raised the eagles sqawked and made a ruckous as if in support of Chief Wiigaanad.  When the rope broke everyone, including the eagles fell silent.  When the pole was finally raised not only did the eagle ruckous continue but eagles flew in to join the was really quite amazing to witness.
 There was support from every where in the form of prayers
 and song.
I will continue this tomorrow with the potlatch.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Totem Pole on the Move

photo by Jessica Reid 
Chief Sid Crosby's totem pole is complete and ready to be raised but first it needs to be moved.
photo by Jessica Reid 
Now it is time to move it, the preparations begin. 
 photo by Jessica Reid
This pole will be moved by human power
photo by Jessica Reid 
to it's destination just over three kilometers(1.8 miles) away
photo by Jessica Reid
with all kinds of support....more to come!
Scenic Sunday

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My World Tuesday ~ Potlatching

This weekend the Skidegate Gidins will host a pole raising and potlatch to honour their new chief.

Potlatch, from the Chinook word(a common trading language of the Northwest coast indigeneous peoples) means "to give away" or "a gift" and was a social gathering by a hereditary chief or family in their house(longhouse) to establish or uphold his/their status position in society and to redistribute wealth. In a culture where history is passed on in an oral tradition potlatches were mainly winter cermonies to mark a significant event such as a son's marriage, the passing of a chief, the birth of a child or the installation of a new chief.  Potlatches are distinguished from feasts in that guests are invited to a potlatch to share food and receive gifts or payment for witnessing the event. Potlatches were also the venue in which ownership to economic and ceremonial privileges was asserted, displayed, and formally transferred to heirs.
This beautiful pole, which was commissioned by Chief Syd Crosby from Master carver Tim Boyko will be raised outside of Sydney's home in Skidegate.  (In older times it would have been raised in front of the clan longhouse.)  Following the pole raising in which everyone is welcome to help raise the pole the potlatch will be held.  The story of the pole will be told and the carver will be honoured and paid along with his apprentices.
The top figure on Syd's pole is an eagle and the post with the two rings on it represents the two potlatches that Sydney has/will host.  There are old totem poles with many rings representing many potlatches.  The photo below from BC Archives shows a memorial pole to a chief who in his life time hosted 10 potlatches.
The potlatch was seen by the church and the government as "the ritualistic act of giving away nearly all of one’s hard-earned possessions as a sign that the indigenous people were ‘unstable’".  Yet the potlatch was the First Nations primary connection to their culture and the redistribution of wealth among their people.  Your wealth was determined by how much you gave away not by how much you had!   In 1880 an amendment was made to the Indian Act of Canada that banned the potlatch and proclaimed that:

 "Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the “Potlatch” or in the Indian dance known as the “Tamanawas” is guilty of a misdemeanor, and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than six nor less than two months in any gaol or other place of confinement; and every Indian or persons who encourages… an Indian to get up such a festival… shall be liable to the same punishment."

This Amendment to the Indian Act was meant to assimilate the First Nations people into the European culture however without the support of many of the Indian Agents it was a hard law to uphold.  Some First Nations willing let the potlatch go however those like the Haida and the KwakwakaŹ¼wakw continued to practice the potlatch however in a much simpler form.  The Anti-Potlatch ban was repealed in Canada in 1951 and the potlatch has become an important part of the resurgance of the Northwest culture.  It is full of song, dance, regalia, food and pride and I will post lots of pictures next week!  
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Sunday, May 08, 2011

"Blue Skies Do I See, Nothing but Blue Skies Do I See...."

 Like much of the North American continent it has been a cool spring.  Here we have been hard pressed to get into double digits on the thermometer and grey skies, rain and wind have been the norm.
 Today was "Move For Health Day" in British Columbia and it seems the weatherman was on our side with beautiful blue skies, big fluffy clouds and warm temperatures for our community hike! 
 On our way back up the coast we stopped for Chai and to see if we could spot the gray whales that come to visit every spring.
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Thursday, May 05, 2011

SkyWatch Friday ~ If you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes!

 There is a saying on Haida Gwaii that is frequently repeated and very true.. "if you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes".
 Haida Gwaii is a place of micro climates and influenced largely by the winds and the ocean so change is rapid and frequent.
 Our daily walks are generally an hour long and cover a three kilometer circuit travelling north along the beach to Naikoon Provincial Park, walking inland through Misty Meadows and  
 then coming out to return along the edge of the dunes.  In the course of the walk we went from ebbing cool overcast skies to warm blue skies and then it rained all afternoon and evening!
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