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The Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole

By Joe Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Photo Credit: Jaalen Edenshaw

The ancient cedar used for the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  Parks Canada / N Fournier

November 15, 2012 marked the celebration of the ‘unveiling’ of the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay in Skidegate.

Photo Credit: Haida Heritage Centre

April Churchill, vice-president of the Haida Nation, announced the artist chosen to carve the Gwaii Haanas Legacy pole  as carver Jaalen Edenshaw and his apprentice Tyler York (chosen by Jaalen), both of Old Massett. The carvers will work on the pole right up until July 2013.

Photo Credit: Full Moon Photo

  Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole will be carved at the Haida Heritage Centre. The medium and design will reflect the rich and diverse protected area known as Gwaii Haanas. The pole was inspired by strength in the connection between the land and the people and the power of cooperation.

Photo Credit: Full Moon Photo

Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The Gwaii Haanas pole will be raised to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement and the successful cooperative management of the area.
Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The Government of Canada is undertaking the pole carving and raising in partnership with the Haida Nation and has committed $130,000 to the carving of the pole.

Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The date of the last pole raised in Gwaii Haanas is unknown. Those involved in the project say it has likely been at least 130 years as research shows the villages left Sgang Gwaay in 1887 or 1888.

Photo Credit: N. Osbourne

Jaalen Edenshaw explained that “the pole is about working together and how people came together”. The pole will be 50 feet in total length - 40 feet of it will be carved while the remaining 10 feet will be put into the ground.

Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The designs featured on the pole will be figures from the land and the sea as well as the supernatural world. The designs from the bottom of the pole up are a sculpin (a bullhead) being held by a grizzly bear followed by five figures that represent Lyell Island and the people of Lyell Island. Above that we have a raven followed by a ‘work in progress’ (an as yet unidentified figure). Above the ‘work in progress’ are 3 watchmen and on the very top of the watchmen we have an eagle looking down on the pole.

   Photo Credit:  Parks Canada

Jaalen explained the story behind the figures on the pole. The sculpin (on the bottom) and the eagle (on the top) represent the agreement between the government and the Council of the Haida Nation to protect Gwaii Haanas from the ocean floor to mountain top.

Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The grizzly bear figure represents the connection between the Haida and the grizzly bears in the time when there were grizzly bears on Haida Gwaii. There will be a dog figure in each of the bear’s ears representing the earliest scientific proof of Haida existence from 13,000 years ago.

Photo Credit: Joe Hans

  Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

On top of the grizzly Bear there are 5 people representing the Lyell Island blockade and the people connecting together for the land.  

Photo Credit:  Parks Canada

The raven figure represents the balance of both the raven and eagle clans of Haida Gwaii. One of the main crests in the Haida clan system above the raven, on the Legacy Pole, is the visitor. The ‘visitor’ recognizes poles from all around the world when ‘he’ comes to visit this place. Above the visitor figure are the 3 watchmen which represent recognition of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen as well as the people that worked together to save Gwaii Haanas.

  Photo Credit:  Brodie Guy

Jaalen noted that the carvers have incorporate the events of the day of the big earthquake on Haida Gwaii (Oct 27, 2012), into the pole. The new figure is known as 'Sacred-One-Standing-and-Moving' and is the supernatural being responsible for earthquakes on Haida Gwaii.

Photo Credit: Daniel Rabu

The Unveiling Ceremony was heartwarming and was attended by people of all ages from each of the islands communities, filling the room with different types of energy.

Photo Credit: Mary Helmer

Following speeches from the chiefs and elders, the crowd took a break to enjoy the many refreshments.  After the break the children’s dance group from Skidegate put on an inspiring performance to mark the occasion.

Photo Credit: Mary Helmer

Photo Credit: Mary Helmer

The pole will be raised in Gwaii Haanas (Windy Bay) on August 15, with a big celebration in Skidegate two days later. Jaalen noted that it will take approximately 300 people to raise the pole! That will be a BIG gathering!

Over the next year everyone is invited to visit the carving site, to meet the carvers and to learn about the pole being carved.
Photo Credit:  Parks Canada

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