Rhonda Lee McIsaac with Graham Richard
With over 500 people pulling together Xaana Kaahlii Ngaaysdll Naay GyaaGang Skidegate Inlet Healing House Monumental Pole rose slowly to stand high. For the first time in 200 years, a monumental pole rose to look out over Kyahjuu Kun Beatie Point.
Gya k’id llGaayGa expert carver Laada Tim Boyko carved the 40’ monument from ts’uu Red cedar with a team of three apprentices Kwakyans Tony Greene, Kuuhlanuu Billy Yovanovich, and StllnGa Tyler York.
At the monument’s base, taan Haida Gwaii black bear embraces and speaks with a western doctor. Her stories teach the doctor about healing and ancestral knowledge.
Above them Xuuya raven stands in place for all descendants of the Kayxal, the raven matrilineage. Gyalaga SnaanGa fungus peers out of Xuuya’s ear. Gyalaga SnaanGa steered the canoe of Nang Kilsdlaas Supernatural Raven and brought vaginas into the world from the supernatural realm. In Xuuya’s left ear an infant weeps, representing the generation who will be born at Ngaaysdll Naay Haida Gwaii Hospital. To show his affinity with Xuuya, Laada carved his image within his tail. Laada belongs within Kayxal.
Above Xuuya stands a SGaaga Haida medicinal doctor in complete regalia, holding rattles in trance.
Above SGaaga, Ts’aag stands symbolizing Kuustak, the eagle matrilineage.
Three tllga kyahts’ii xaaydaGaay watchmen stand watch atop the pole. This is a classical element of Haida monumental carvings. In the case of Xaana Kaahlii Ngaaysdll Naay GyaaGang, the three figures represent the medical professionals who watch over and care for sick and hurt people at Ngaaysdll Naay.
Together the gyaaGang’s figures depict welcoming, healing, unity, and the joining of traditional and western healing practices. The monument embodies the commitment of Islands communities to learn from the past, heal, and work together towards a better future.
The diversity of lineages represented in the crowd demonstrated this joining together of communities. Amongst those gathered to raise the monument were Haida hereditary leaders; K’uljaad Gaang.nga women held in high esteem; elected CHN, local, provincial and national leaders; local and health administrators; and health professionals from every organization on-Islands.
Before raising the pole those gathered fulfilled proper protocols. Speakers recognized hereditary authorities and received the proper permissions to proceed. Esteemed women blessed the gyaaGang and washed it with ts’uu branches. Tibetan guest, Lama Geshe YongDong joined them in blessing the gyaaGang and in spreading eagle down. Carvers then put life into the pole by dancing around it and a bead ceremony followed, wherein K’uljaad placed offerings in a hole in front of the GyaaGang. They made offerings this way rather than putting them underneath the bottom of the pole, as the gyaaGang’s base rests above ground.
“I really believe in these events. They bring a lot of healing to our community, and they bring a lot of love,” said Gidadguudslilyas Kim Goetzinger. “They can bring a lot of stuff up for everybody, but as we work through them and put our best energies into this to make this a monumental event, we will just feel so great.”
With the gyaaGang standing high above Ngaaysdll Naay’s entrance, guests dispersed for Naa Gaagudgiikyagangs George Brown Rec Centre in HlGaagilda Skidegate to feast in commemoration. The Islands’ many medical professionals and friends had everything prepared. Dancers brought SGaaga through the hall in accordance with protocol, to flush any maleficent spirits and feelings from Naa Gaagudgiikyagangs. Medical professionals and friends then served food to hundreds of witnesses.
Hereditary leaders started speeches, followed by Council of the Haida Nation elected representative Gaagwiis Jason Alsop who spoke on behalf of the CHN executive. Subsequent speakers included: Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich; Haida Gwaii’s Chief of Medical Staff Dr Gordon Horner; UBC Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Dermott Kelleher; and Northern Savings Credit Union employee Gidin Jaad Erica Ryan.
Haida dancers with Tluu Xaadaa Nee had travelled from Gaw to sing in full regalia at the celebration. Their masks, dances and songs shook the air and brought good feelings to everyone. Witnesses rose from their chairs to show their dancing skills.
Speeches followed from pole raising organizers including: Xaaynangaa Naay Skidegate Health Centre Board Chairperson Suudahl Cindy Boyko; Ngaaysdll Naay Haida Gwaii Hospital member Dr Tracey Morton; Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin; and XaaydaGa Dlaang board member Gyaa Xaagaay Uuance Lauren Brown.
Speeches followed from GwaaGanad Diane Brown; Gwaii Haanas Superintendant Nang Kaa Klaagangs Ernie Gladstone; First Nations Health Authority Chair Marion Colleen Erickson and Vice-Chairperson Dr Elizabeth Whynot; MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley Nathan Cullen and MLA for North Coast Jennifer Rice.
Haida dancers with Hltaaxuulang Guud ad K’aajuu then sang and drummed a paddling song as they flooded the hall. The group danced in tribute to each of the figures carved into the gyaaGang.
To end the evening, Lama Geshe YongDong sang a prayer as the feast came to a close. Having finished all the business Islands medical staff distributed gifts to witnesses and people headed into the early morning to return home.