“The Haida Nation is the rightful heir to Haida Gwaii. Our culture is born of respect; and intimacy with the land and sea and the air around us. Like the forests, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot overcome us. We owe our existence to Haida Gwaii. The living generation accepts the responsibility to insure that our heritage is passed on to following generations. On these islands our ancestors lived and died and here too, we will make our homes until called away to join them in the great beyond.”
SHIP Translation of the Haida Proclamation:
“Iid kuuniisii asii id gii isda gan. Tllgaay ad siigaay Gan t’alang aaxana ad yahguudang. Huu tllguu Giidan hlk’inxa gaa.ngang xaayda hllng.aay gud giijaagids, gaay Gaaganuu gam gina daaGang.nga id gwii is hllnga Gang ga. XaaydaGa Gwaay.yaay Gaaganuu iid xaynanga ga. Asii gwaay.yaay guu, iid kuuniisii xaynang.nga, ad siing.gwaa’ad gan. Sah ‘Laana Tllgaay Gaa id gii kyaagang.ngaay Gaaw aan t’ang naaxang sGwaan.nang Gas ga. Iid sihlGa ga xaynangas gii t’alang t’aas.slas, asii kyang.gaay llgaay ‘waagii kilxii gang ga.”
Drying Halibut in a smokehouse- Haida Gwaii. Photo courtesy of Virtual Museum.
I moved home to Haida Gwaii just over ten months ago. In this time I have gained a true appreciation for the gifts that Haida Gwaii has to offer. The Ocean serves an important role in my daily life. When I wake up and look out my front window it is there to greet me. If the weather is acting up the bashing waves keep me awake at night. It soothes me when I need a friend and walks beside me as I contemplate my thoughts on beachside strolls. The Ocean feeds my soul and it nourishes my body.
Even though I lived in the city- I grew up eating seafood. Every Summer coming home to Haida Gwaii with my family we would get fish and my mom would process it for us. When she first moved to Haida Gwaii she fished commercially. And was taught by some amazing fishermen how to gut, slice, can, smoke and candy her fish. My Mom tells a story of sitting at a potlatch with me when I was a baby. She was cracking crab for herself and a little hand reached out. A while later she realized she had been cracking crab and hadn’t eaten any herself. K’aaw (herring roe on kelp) is another food I grew up loving and still salivate over.
Growing up in Vancouver I was lucky enough to eat Haida Gwaii seafood multiple times a week. It may sound strange, but it kept my connection to Haida Gwaii alive because the fish I was eating came from the same waters where my ancestors fished. There is something inherently powerful in that knowledge. As a child I remember watching my mom work on fish. When we were in Skidegate she would work on fish in Audrey Boyko’s back-yard. Audrey was like a lot of Haida women. She prepared her fish with gold bracelets stacked on her arms, a cedar woven hat protecting her from the sun. I remember how beautiful she looked and how elegantly she sliced her salmon. You could see the love and appreciation in her eyes.
While in Massett we would stay with Ernie Collison. My mom would process fish with him and Reg Davidson. I remember watching them laugh so hard that they cried- telling stories and joking with each other. I was so quiet back then, I doubt they knew I was listening. But I was, nervously observant and cautiously aware. I remember being allowed to help my mom when I was really young, helping hang the fish and checking the smokehouse. When I was eleven or twelve my mom taught me how to gut fish. We may have been in the city- gutting fish in our backyard. I guess I’ve never been much of a city-girl.
Every year my mom re-teaches me slicing, smoking and canning techniques. I think I have things memorized and then the next year comes around and all I can remember is how to gut my fish. Doing fish all on your own can be exhausting- days out fishing, coming home and gutting, slicing, smoking/ peppering and canning, or making ts’iljii. Two summers ago I was prepared to work with my mom on fish from start to finish. We had just begun slicing and on about the fourth fish I sliced my finger instead of the fish. It was laughable- as my mom has had quite a few fish cutting injuries. I wasn’t allowed to do fish that summer, instead I rocked a pink bandaid and three stitches.
When I first moved home and was out walking my dog, I passed by second beach just outside of the Heritage Centre. Diane Brown and her grandkids were collecting seafood at low tide. Later that day I went to Diane’s house on a work assignment and she had their finds displayed on the table. Speaking Haida to her grandkids and feeding them food they had just collected themselves, it was a powerful moment to witness. A lot of lucky kids that grew up here were gifted with a knowledge of food harvesting. They went out with their families to fish traditional fishing grounds, hunt for octopus, get crab at low tide, dig for clams, to pick seaweed, sea asparagus, go on berry picking adventures for huckleberries and wild strawberries. Haida Gwaii nourishes our souls, our minds and our bodies.
HAIDA ETHICS AND VALUES – Haida Marine Use Plan
Our way of life teaches respect for all life. We live between the undersea and sky worlds that we share with other creatures and supernatural beings. Our responsibilities to the sea and land are guided by ancestral values.
Yahguudang or Yakguudang Respect Respect for each other and all living things is rooted in our culture. We take only what we need, we give thanks, and we acknowledge those who behave accordingly.
‘Laa guu ga kanhllns Responsibility We accept the responsibility passed on by our ancestors to manage and care for our sea and land. We will ensure that our heritage is passed onto future generations.
Giid tll’juus The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife. Balance is needed in our interactions with the natural world. If we aren’t careful in everything we do, we can easily reach a point of no return. Our practices and those of others must be sustainable.
Isda ad diigii isda Giving and Receiving Giving and receiving is a respected practice in our culture, essential in our interactions with each other and the natural world. We continually give thanks to the natural world for the gifts that we receive.
Gina k’aadang.nga gii uu tl’ k’anguudang Seeking Wise Counsel Our elders teach us about traditional ways and how to work in harmony. Like the forests the roots of our people are intertwined. Together we consider new ideas and information in keeping with our culture, values and laws.
Courtesy of CHN
Catching and preparing your own food is a wonderful thing. It can become very convenient and easy to rely on supermarkets to feed ourselves. Harvesting food and feeling a deep connection to the land is more meaningful and fulfilling then going to your local grocery store to buy pre-packaged “Alaskan” salmon – farmed fish. A few years ago, I went out to Copper Bay for the first time. Copper Bay is a traditional fishing ground. My oldest brother, his wife and kids were with us. I was so thrilled to watch people checking their nets and the kids fascination as they watched our friend Shawn gut and slice salmon right on the beach. The looks on their faces were equal parts disgust and curiosity. Watching them, I had a flashback to running outside to check on a deer my dad had hanging outside- and going back every few minutes to make sure it was still there. We sat down around the fire and our friends shared Copper Bay salmon freshly cooked over the fire with us. There was a calm in the air and a feeling that I can’t quite describe. We played on the beach after dinner and it hit me- my history is here on these lands and in these waters. Our history is here and we are keeping it alive by continuing to come here.
“We eat practically everything out of the ocean. That food is the healthiest and the safest in the world. The food out here is still fantastic. So we have to protect it, that’s all there is to it.” – Paul Pearson
A traditional Haida diet is incredibly healthful- rich in nutrients, protein and healthy fats. Collecting and harvesting traditional foods takes a lot of time and energy. For many of us, doing it all on our own or even as a family can be exhausting. Or, if you are like me you have a lot to learn about seafood and plant harvesting and preparation. However, I have come to realize how important a more traditional diet is to remaining healthy while living on Haida Gwaii. I eat a “Nativatarian” diet meaning that I eat seafood, but no other meat. I am also, for the most part, gluten free. This limits me in the City but on Haida Gwaii it makes eating a nutrition filled diet from the grocery store, near impossible. Upon moving home I was gifted with a tote full of fish from an amazing family friend. My Mom also sent me canned peaches and more salmon. The cost of vegetables can be outrageous here- sometimes double or triple the price of off- island produce. I decided that I wouldn’t ever budget eating healthfully. So sometimes I buy $15 grapes, or $12 strawberries. Recently for a recipe I bought frozen spinach! Let me just say, it wasn’t quite the same. I picked and pickled sea asparagus this year- it was surprisingly easy, fun and delicious! Next year I am hoping to find someone to teach me how to harvest seaweed and other edible plants on Haida Gwaii. I have a lot to learn. I am ready and willing!
I would also like to learn how to respectfully and properly harvest other seafoods. I think that this will be very fulfilling to be in terms of my connection to Haida Gwaii and to Haida culture. Preparing fish in the city always made me feel close to home, even though I was so far away. This coming summer I plan on getting my regular yearly seafood supply. I also hope to can peaches, tomatoes, apples and make pickled sea asparagus. I want to pack my pantry with healthful foods so that I don’t have to rely on the supermarket to fill my stomach. Haida Art is heavily influenced by the natural world. Our connection to the Ocean is apparent in our art and oral histories. This connection is something that I feel every-time I slice salmon.
The rich red of sockeye and the elegance with which they navigate Haida Gwaii waters.
Walking through our old growth forests it is easy to understand Haida stories and to understand the connection between all living things.
We continue to protect our Oceans and Islands because they feed our souls.
Haida Art is inspired by the bounty of Haida Gwaii, by our stories and our histories.
Everything is connecting to everything else.
If you come into the Haida Heritage Centre we have a section on food harvesting in Haida Gwaii. Come on in and learn about harvesting local foods. From there you can visit the Haida Gwaii Museum and learn about the stories of Haida Gwaii.
Blog written by Michaela McGuire, Photographer, Project Officer at GNC & HHC & new-ish Skidegate resident.