The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge enjoyed an afternoon exploring Haida artistry at Kay Llnagaay on Friday September 30th. After witnessing ceremony in Gina Guu Aahljuu Naay (Performing House) they stepped out into Gyaa K’id Naay (Carving House). A large crowd of admirers had gathered to greet them and show respect.
Many in the crowd were wearing orange clothing in recognition of Orange Shirt Day, which coincided with the visit. The day commemorates the thousands of children who died in and survived through residential schools. Many others wore bright blue in respectful protest of the recent decision to approve construction of the Pacific Northwest LNG project. The project would would bring LNG tankers through Haida territorial waters, worsen Canada’s CO2 output, and put Haida Gwaii’s coastline in danger of tanker spills.
The royal couple stopped to admire carver Iljuuwas’ (Bill Reid’s) 15-metre cedar canoe Lootaas. Years of research and fascination with Haida carving culminated when the iconic vessel was displayed at Expo 86 alongside his smaller canoes. Haida paddlers then brought Lootaas back to HlGaagilda (Skidegate) by retracing old trade routes on a journey that was over 950 km long. Earlier in the same day the royal couple had arrived at Kay Llnagaay aboard Looplex, a fibreglass replica of Lootas.
To their other side lay another of Iljuuwas’ masterpieces, the Skidegate Pole. Guujaaw, a Haida carver who worked on the pole as an apprentice, explained how the monumental pole was carved and the stories behind its symbols.
Upon its completion the Haida community raised the pole on June 17, 1978 in front of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program building. The Skidegate Pole portrays a few of the prominent characters from Haida history including the Bear Mother, Kuugin Jaad (Mouse Woman), Yaahl (Raven) holding frog, a killer whale story, the dogfish mother, and three watchmen. As the pole grew older concern grew over its stability, and it was taken down. Iljuwaas’ family expressed their wish to see the work preserved, and Saahlinda Naay (the Haida Gwaii Museum) now aims to build an addition to house the pole along with several other of Iljuuwas’ works.
The Skidegate Pole was just one of dozens that line the shores of Haida Gwaii. As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge walked out of Gyaa K’id Naay and into the sun they greeted the crowd of orange and blue, then proceeded to view the six poles that stand at Kay Llnagaay. These poles were carved and raised in honour of various Haida families who have lived in Haida Gwaii at least since the time of the glaciers.
Their guide Haana Jaad described the six monumental poles, which feature the stories and crests that belong to Haida families. These crests and stories show how all Haida people are interconnected with the supernaturals, ancestors, land, animals, and one another. While each of the many symbols could easily take hours to completely explain and a lifetime to understand, Haana Jaad did her best to provide an overview of some of the poles’ most important features.
Once they finished outside the Duke and Duchess turned and entered Stlaay Daw Naay (Welcome House), where they met a number of Haida artists who described their disciplines and provided examples of their work.