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.
To visit other fascinating places from around the world by not join us a


fjällripan said...

So interesting. And amazing with the eagles flying...exactly right in time...Great post :)

Janie said...

Great tradition, and cool that the eagles flew over to celebrate the pole raising.
Too bad someone was hurt.

joco said...

A lot of work for you - but really appreciated. A chunk of history in the making.. Such a pity there was a sad incident halfway through.

Sylvia K said...

Wonderful, fascinating post for the day and such great captures!! So sorry someone was hurt! Your efforts and hard work are so appreciated! Thank you for sharing with us! Have a great week!


Barb said...

How interesting to read about the traditional pole-raising ceremony! I'm glad the injured person will be OK. It is amazing that the Eagles took part in the ceremony. PS - I could use one of those Cedar hats - it's been raining on our vacation!

Gaelyn said...

Such an amazing process to watch. That pole is awesome! Love the PNW symbols and the blankets too. It is too bad someone was hurt, but the power of those eagles should help with the healing. Thank you for sharing this with us. You did great on the photos, even with someone elses camera. Look forward to the potlatch.

Kay L. Davies said...

Fascinating occasion. I would love to have been there. I've been intrigued by your islands most of my life and yet have never visited.
Yes, it's sure a shame someone was hurt, but so good there was help available immediately and afterward, and there should be no problem with his recovery.
I love the blankets worn by Cindy and the other lady. So incredibly beautiful.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Holly Friesen said...

What a powerful and beautiful celebration this was! Thank-you so much for documenting and sharing it. Though I presently live in the East of Canada I have always been fascinated with the wisdom & beauty of the Haida culture, so glad to see a resurgence of this wise and magnificent way of being in a time when our planet is so desperately in need of some wisdom and love from human beings. It is a remarkable patch of planet that you live on and again I am delighted to have stumbled onto your blog!

Pam said...

My husband and I were visiting Haida Gwaii and drove down from Masset for the day to watch the Pole Raising. It was an amazing site! We were right behind the man who got hit with the block. It was good to hear that he was not too badly injured - although serious enough. And the eagles were amazing in how they participated in the event. We did not attend the Potlatch so I am interested in seeing your pictures.

Powell River Books said...

I've been looking forward to seeing the pole raising pictures. What an exciting day it must have been. Glad the injuries weren't too bad to mar such a wonderful occasion. - Margy

Pierre BOYER said...



Clytie said...

Ooooh yeah - definitely worth the wait! What beautiful art, beautiful people, ... and the eagles gave me goosebumps! Thank you for sharing this piece of history.

Patricia Lichen said...

Wow! Fascinating posts! Thanks for sharing this.

Kay said...

Your post was very informative and interesting and I always enjoy your beautiful photographs. We are visiting Josh & Erica in August so we'll get to see the pole at her uncle's home.

Marion said...

Thanks for noticing the awesome!

I have a friend in England who is really interested in the Haida...I'm going to send her the link to your blog. All the photos are great, as usual...Thanks so much, Carolyn! xx


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