Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
Heading to the forest for an outing at the end of the school year involves a lot of patience and cooperation to get the job done and that’s exactly what the Chief Matthews Xaad Kil Sk’adada Leeygaas, Haida language teacher, K’aayhlt’aa Xuhl Rhonda Bell’s Grade 5 class pulled off this past spring.
The class has been going into the forest each spring to carry on the tradition of providing ts’uu and SG_aahlan cedar bark for the class of Grade 5’s that will follow them. The cedar is used to make woven cedar bark graduation caps.
“Gathering cedar involves patience, responsibility and respect,” Kung Jaadee Roberta Kennedy told the students before saying a prayer prior to harvesting cedar. “And it involves fun too,” added Aadiitsii Jaad Marni York, Camp Coordinator for the Cultural Feature Identification field crews for the Council of the Haida Nation.
As the class took to the forest, chaperones trailed behind shepherding them along. “Don’t run with the axe! Point the knife blade down as you walk! Let us know where you are going! Share!” they call out.
Cultural Feature Identification Audit Coordinator, Yaahl Xunjuuaas Robert Kennedy supervised the stripping of the cedar walking around helping each group of earnest workers. Grunts and loud groans followed him through the forest as small hands pulled bark from the trunks of the trees. The creaking and splitting of fibres crackled as the peeling began – some pulls were short and others long. Many strips of cedar were gathered over a couple of hours and rested on the ground like mushrooms popping up from the K’inax_an moss, and as the bundles grew from one to many, the freshly coiled cedar scented the air.
The best strips of pulled bark came from trees that were tall and straight. “The first pull is important because you can see which way it’s going to pull right away,” said weaver su lung gugung Sharleen White. Aadiitsii Jaad Marni York shared good humour with the students telling stories and providing lessons on bush craft; like, how to safely handle small knives and axes and to be mindful of the terrain as you walk through it.
While harvesting, and with some help, the students composed a new song which they sung as they walked from the forest with two big bags of cedar strips. As they walked out to waiting Elders faint grumbling was heard when it came another student’s turn to carry the bags of cedar. The young bark strippers took 100 steps before handing the bag off to another carrier. For one student, a skuuntl’a kiss on the cheek from a passing Hldants’s iix_id or dakdakdiiya hummingbird was payment enough.