Haida Gwaii … Islands Of The People

I was aboard the schooner Maple Leaf for seven days in June.  Thirteen of us experienced the wonders of Haida Gwaii, north of Vancouver Island.

Part of the learning centred on humpback whales, sea lions, black bears and many species of birds.  But there was more.

Haida watchmen are the guardians of ancient villages and their totem poles.  We got to visit five of these sites.  Many years ago, there were hundreds of villages scattered among the islands of Haida Gwaii.  Then came the white people.  Then came smallpox.  Ninety per cent of the Haida died.

For much of the 1900’s, another reality was residential schools.  Kids were removed from their homes and sent away, as far as PEI.  They weren’t allowed to speak their language.  If a brother and sister were at the same school, they weren’t allowed to talk to each other.  Their long hair, a deep symbol of identity, was cut.

At one of the villages, I stood beside Ken, a watchmen in his 30’s.  Do I ask him what I really want to ask him?  Yes.  I mentioned the smallpox and the residential schools.

“You folks seem so happy.  Have you forgiven us whites for what we did?”

Ken smiles.  “Oh yes.  We welcome everyone.”

Oh my.

The people are alive and so very well.  It was a privilege to spend time with them.

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