Daawuuxusda: What’s at stake

phytoplankton

Stretching 250 kilometres from north to south, Duuguusd/Daawuuxusda the west coast of Haida Gwaii is remote, jagged, and robust. Rocky pinnacles and battered reefs are neighbours to pocket beaches and sheltered sounds. Because it is exposed to weather systems from tang.g̱wan the Pacific Ocean, the coastline receives the brunt of fierce winds, waves up to 35 metres, and an annual rainfall of four metres.

Here, the land and seascape are like nowhere else. The continental shelf – a dramatic bank that drops to depths of 10,000 feet just off the shorelines – extends out into

Upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich water fosters phytoplankton that make up the base of the food chain. It is a vibrant and generous area, home to urchins, geoducks, halibut, salmon, lingcod, and black cod, among many more important seafoods. The waters here are so abundant with life that Taa Suu, commonly known as Tasu Sound, translates simply to ‘Food Lake’. This bountiful and healthy coast has sustained families on Haida Gwaii for millennia.

Sea otters were once abundant along the shoreline, and seals still occupy the areas that remain rich with marine life. In the past, with a seasonal supply of resources, there were also a number of temporary hunting camps up and down the entire coastline of Daawuuxusda. Albatross and tufted puffins make their homes on the rocky shorelines; giant blue whales and sperm whales travel this coast every year. When warm currents push up from the south, albacore tuna and Humboldt squid ply these waters.

All five species of salmon rely on the west coast of Haida Gwaii. On their seasonal migration, huge annual runs of chinook, coho, and sockeye feast on forage fish and plankton along the Islands’ rich and dynamic feeding grounds. The continental shelf offers bottom-dwellers, such as black cod, rockfish, and Tanner crabs a wealth of food and shelter.There are more than 70 ancestral Haida villages spanning Duuguusd. These were home to many Haida clans at various times. There were at least five ancestral villages in and around Taa Suu. To the south, G̱awg̱aay.ya

There are more than 70 ancestral Haida villages spanning Duuguusd. These were home to many Haida clans at various times. There were at least five ancestral villages in and around Taa Suu. To the south, Gawgaay.ya Gowgaia Bay, meaning ‘Big Bay’, was home to at least seven ancestral Haida villages.

Countless stories document the historical importance of the west coast; it is home to powerful Haida ancestral mothers and sea-going supernatural beings. These supernatural beings live in the many unique landforms along the shoreline of the west coast. Throughout time, the rivers, creeks, and streams have been home to supernatural beings named Creek Women, who live at the heads of the waterways.

Archaeology complements recorded Haida oral history. In 2004, archaeologists documented an ancient cave at the head of a fjord on the west side of Moresby Island. Bear bones uncovered at this site were dated to 10,000 years old; additional evidence found in the cave confirmed that Haidas living in the area in ancient times ate a diet of marine-based foods.

Historically and in contemporary times, from one end to the other, the entire west coast is a hugely productive area supporting diverse ecosystems that contribute to commercial and food fisheries. As the home to several clans and supernatural beings, Daawuuxusda holds a deep and important history for Haida people.

Note to Readers: This article alternates between northern and southern Haida dialects.
English – West Coast of Haida Gwaii
Gaaw Xaad Kil – Duuguusd
HlGaagilda Xaayda Kil – Daawuuxusda

1 Comment

  1. Nice article! Can I just clarify that numerous bear bones from that cave dated to between 10 and 14,000 years ago. One bear bone, from a juvenile brown (grizzly) bear dated to over 17,000 years old. That is remarkable because that is close to the height of the last ice age, showing that there may have been large areas of unglaciated land on and around Haida Gwaii (and not just tiny areas which supported unique plants and beetles, for example).

    Two partial spear points were also found in this cave, which date to between about 12,200 and 12,800 years ago, showing Ancestral Haida hunting denning bears when Haida Gwaii was still much colder than today – probably black bears in their winter dens. While there were a few fish bones in this cave it was not here that evidence was found regarding ancestral Haida diet.

    It was a privilege to work in that cave, Howaa to the Haida Nation for their support.

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