Gaandlee Guu Jaalang Daughters of the River Salmon and Sisterhood at Sk‘aaws

Photo: Gaad Gas Raven Ryland

Kil Hltaanuwaay Tayler Brown 
This article includes Xaad kil.

Due to the global pandemic, this summer was vastly different for many Haida and Island citizens. True to Haida strength and resilience, citizens took the opportunity to get out on Haida Gwaii’s lands and waters to practice the inherent right to fish and harvest. Although there were unique challenges, with the necessary safety precautions put in place, it was a successful summer in so many ways. Throughout the summer, jáadaa women and íihlaangaa men went out harvesting Island foods and medicines, sharing together, teaching youth and empowering each other.  

In Gaw Tlagee Old Massett, Gaandlee Guu Jaalang Daughters of the River travelled to Needan Gawee Naden Harbour to set up camp and create a space to safely teach harvesting and land-based skills to jáadaa from all communities on Haida Gwaii. The actions jáadaa and youth demonstrated were a powerful example of leadership and Haida pride. 

Community work  
Before the seasonal harvesting camp was set up, several community engagements were held in early June. Jáadaa met in Gaw Tlagee and a lot of preparation happened for the camp in the first week. Women, such as Hilang jaad hyalaa Leslie Brown, Gulee Cynthia Samuels, K’alagaa Jaad Tarah Samuels, Jaad ithl gaa jaadaa Leeann Brown, Sandlanee Gid Raven Ann Potschka, Kuun Jaadas Adeana Young and many others began planning and organizing. The goal was, and is still today, to promote and assert inherent rights to fishing and harvesting in Haida territories. 

Ts’aahl Laanas – Ladies held in high esteem: Faith Bell, Nora Samuels, Louise Almquist. Photo: Gulee Cynthia Samuels

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) added another level of care and consideration. Countless jáadaa , íihlaangaa, youth, and supporters worked together to organize. Volunteers brought food, boats, donations and supplies to be transported between Sk’áaws and Gaw Tlagee. The days were long, many starting early in the morning and working late into the night but everyone knew that the work was necessary to ensure gear and people were ready for the harvesting camp. Those who were not able to stay at Sk’áaws helped from town. The “in town” crew organized into different teams based on the collective skills of the jáadaa. The women of Gaandlee Guu Jaalang who stayed in the community were crucial to the success and safety of the jáadaa, Elders and children at Sk’áaws. 

Sk’áaws ad Káng ‘Lngee
By early July, women travelled to the village site of Sk’áaws in Needan Gawee. Sk’áaws is one of two village sites along the narrows connecting Needan Gawee and Dánee Virago Sound. The other, on the western side is Káng ‘Lngee. Both villages have Watchmen cabins, which were reserved for Elders who wanted to stay and tents for the young jáadaa were set up nearby.  

Sk’áaws and Káng are both within the Duu Guusd protected area. The lands and waters are highly productive with tsíin salmon streams and k’ust’áan crab. In recent years, tsíin populations have varied and fewer are returning to their streams to spawn. Harvesting is not only part of inherent Haida rights, but along with it comes the responsibility to protect and respect tsíin, which the Gaandlee Guu Jaalang have committed to. 

A fish camp was set up with pressure cookers and jars ready to can tsíin as íihlaangaa and jáadaa who were out on the water brought their day’s catch ashore. Haida citizens donated skiffs and motors for Gaandlee Guu Jaalang to use close to camps and within the narrows. These small vessels, just large enough to hold three jáadaa and a net comfortably, were used to teach youth how to set and pull in nets, as well as boating safety and the importance of having paddles onboard at all times. As more people came out to the harvesting camp, more knowledge was shared. Youth were empowered to learn how to run boats and clean and preserve tsíin, and practice Haida art.  

In late July, a COVID-19 community outbreak forced the camp to shut down for the safety of everyone and Island communities. But, Gaandlee Guu Jaalang work continued. Once it was safe, jáadaa, youth and Elders travelled back to Sk’áaws to continue repairs on the Watchmen sites in preparation for next year, in hopes of housing Elders at both camps safely and comfortably for more sharing, harvesting, and sisterhood at Sk’áaws.  


Food security means that we are maintaining our food source as our ancestors have. It means having access to this with our families so we can continue to teach our children. This is our right and it always has been. We need to continue living Xaad Xiinanga Haida Life, it helps our physical and mental health. It keeps us rooted to Haida Gwaii. 

Hilang jaad hyalaa Leslie Brown 


When we went to gather the last of our gear in early October, our two boats were greeted by two SGaan killerwhale bulls that were slowly making their way from the harbour out to the open ocean. That was a very powerful message and greeting. It was encouraging and heartwarming. 

K’alagaa Jaad Tarah Samuels 


We are survivors of epidemics. Smallpox was purposely introduced to wipe out our Haida People. Upholding our inherent right to occupy our ancestral lands and to harvest our traditional foods is something that colonization tried to interrupt. We are Haida people living off the land as we have since time immemorial. Our presence at Sk’áaws and everywhere on Haida Gwaii runs deep in our ancestral lands. We are here, we never left. We will continue to occupy our lands and waters!  

Kuun Jaadas Adeana Young 


It was a really positive uplifting experience. It is my dream to be on the water and on the land with women. To be on the boat all together, as young women, it was a gift, so fulfilling and enriching. It was also important for my family and my kids to be there and learn from Elders and the land. 

Sandlanee Gid Raven Ann Potschka 


After we got our gear onshore, we took a little break. The loudest, most powerful thunder happened! We had our phones ready in case there was more, but it didn’t happen. It was just once. We believe our ancestors said haw’aa in a big way. 

 – Gulee Cynthia Anne Samuels 


My time at Sk’áaws was a time of learning, teaching, creating, and reconnecting with our land, water, culture Haida women, and friends. Fishing, crabbing, harvesting, and processing our foods just as we always have, lifted my spirit and heart. It was disheartening that our time had to be cut short, but I do look forward to going back with my kids, family, Haida women and friends to continue upholding our ways. 

Jaad ithl gaa jaadaa Leeann Brown 


Photo: Gaad Gas

This article is published in the recent Winter Haida Laas. View or download the full edition here.


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