Black Gold

Harvesters lumber back to the boat with 15 pounds of sopping wet sG̲yuu in each bag after a few hours of picking on the barnacle encrusted shoreline. Photo credit: Haida Laas/Graham Richard

Rhonda Lee McIsaac

The sound of seawater lapping against the rocks at Suu liwans Gawdaas in Nang Xaldangaas Protected Area was constant as rain jacket-clad men and women clambered along the rocky shoreline. They came in search of black gold hanging from rocks or lying thick on the exposed intertidal at low tide. For many this was an opportunity to get onto the shoreline for a traditional harvest and a feed of sGyuu for their families.

A thin crepe-like appearance early in the spring distinguishes Purple laver, also called nori. The species, known to science as Pyropia abbottiae, is a member of bangiaceae, the red algae family. SGyuu’s deep, dark-green hue verges on black. Broad fronds with frilly edges can grow from a few inches to a meter in length. It grows in the intertidal zone typically between the upper intertidal zone and the splash zone. It can be eaten raw or dried and contains high vitamin B12.

The smiles on the sGyuu harvesters’ faces are contagious as heads pop up from various points on the rugged shoreline.  Their hands become tacky and sticky with salt from the slick seaweed. Careful harvesters are keen to pick sGyuu properly to ensure it grows back the next year. They avoid picking sGyuu right off of the rock, leaving a few inches of stem instead. The pickers don’t even notice cold winds as their eyes and hands dart from frond to frond. Even barnacle-scraped knees can’t keep them from their quarry.

The weather holds as they pick large gunny sacks full for their families. Seawater oozes from the bags as they pack them from patch to patch. Within a few hours they have harvested at least 14 bags.

Harvesters will clean the sGyuu and lay it out in the sun to dry naturally. Haida keep it dry and watch it carefully to prevent mold growth. Harvesters can then break it up and package it in zip locked freezer bags. Black gold is a sought-after delicacy in Islands homes, at feasts, at potlucks and in every bowl of jam. If a good harvester feels a little more k’uudaga they can eat their sGyuu straight out of the bag.

The Haida Gwaii Restorative Justice program organized the event with support from the Old Massett Village Council Healthy Families Program. CHN’s Protected Areas Management Program provided transportation. Participants included Xyaahl Gulaa’s Colleen Williams, Xay Kuyaas Ariane Medley, Tammi Ryland, William Yeltatzie, Helmer Edgars, Yalthkunung Chris Collison, Wilfred Marks Sr, Oot Iiwaans Leo Gagnon, Wayne Edenshaw, Andy Williams, and CHN staff.

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