By Ileah Mattice
On the beautiful summer evening of July 22nd, a celebration took place in Gaw that remembered and reunited a group of people who took a stand against logging at Athlii Gwaii, 33 years ago.
Although some of the original group have passed on, many of those still with us were welcomed into the Old Massett Hall with a song that has become very dear to most citizens of the Nation. The Coming into the House Paddle Song which is also known known as The Lyell Island Song was adopted as the Haida Nation national anthem many years ago. The hall was decorated for a celebration with photos, news articles on the wall mingling with greenery. The visuals sparked memories of that time years back and gave community members a glimpse of the action that took place during the stand at Athlii Gwaii.
After the feast, each citizen who was on the line, or a member of the family for those who have passed, received a plaque honouring the person for their strong stance. The plaques were presented by Gaagwiis Jason Alsop and Jaad Gudangaa ‘laas Dana Bellis on behalf of Gwaii Trust, and Tarah Samuels. As those who stood on the line received their plaques, they shared their stories at the well-attended dinner. Depicted on the plaque is a copper shield with the participants name and the inscription: “A True Warrior – Athlii Gwaii”.
Following the presentations, a copper shield with all the names of those who stood on the line engraved into it was presented to the group by Xya’ahl Guu’la’as, gifted by Chief Ginaawaan. And, with great ceremony, the shield was danced around the room to close the dinner.
The next day, some of the group traveled to Gwaii Haanas to continue with their reunion, as many of them have never been to the area since the stand. This gave them an opportunity to experience Gwaii Haanas again, visit the sites of the original camp and enjoy the area that is now known as a National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.
The celebration and trip was put together by Xya’ahl Guu’la’as Colleen Williams, with the support of Gwaii Trust.
They keep saying protests and things don’t help anymore, but putting a whole nation behind what you’re doing, I’m pretty sure something will happen. – John Yeltatzie
The work that we do, that we must continue to do, effects even those people who we sometimes think are against us. – Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
The thing I remember most was how Masset and Skidegate just came together like brothers and sisters, that I always knew we were. – Reg Wesley
I’m here to support the Haida because you stand for sovereignty too and that’s something that’s really hard to hold onto. – Ronald George, We’suwet’en Elder
What we did 33 years ago, that was one of the biggest moves a First Nations group ever made and the Haida did that, and we sent a message to the world that we would fight for what we believe in. – Lawrence Jones
If Gwaii Haanas was saved, that meant there was hope for the rest of the world to quit destroying things. I believe every Haida has a legacy to honour, and that is to protect and preserve Haida Gwaii. – Gwaaganad Diane Brown
It’s been a long journey and I think it’s time we made things right so we can stand up again as Haida people, as Haida people we forget to stand up for what we’re losing – we are not going to stop protecting the land as a people, we need to stand together, we need to come together as a nation, we didn’t stand at Lyell Island to protect Gwaii Haanas, we stood there to protect Haida Gwaii. – Xya’ahl Guu’la’as Colleen Williams