Many secrets loom beneath the surface of the K‘aygang.nga, the canon of Haida ancestral stories. From the time of the glaciers, 14,000 year ago, Kuuniisii our ancestors preserved these records by passing them into the current generation. Through an intergenerational custom of rigorous discipline, historical experts learned to recite the K’aygang.nga word-for-word.These stories predate the earliest complete work of written literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, by around 9,500 years.
A century ago, villages all over Haida Gwaii were so crowded with gyaagang totem poles that visitors compared the sight to the clustered masts of ships at harbour. The stories imbedded in the carving on these poles refer to the origins and history of each family.
After the government of Canada illegalized the potlatch, many gyaagang were dismantled and shipped around the world where they reside in various museum collections. Many others succumbed to the abuses of vandals who disfigured them and took pieces as souveniers. Despite this, the Haida way of being has endured and on August 15, 2013 the nation along with the federal government raised another gyaagang in Gwaii Haanas – the first pole-raising there in over a century.
Like the many poles that once dotted Gwaii Haanas’ coast, the Legacy Pole at Hlk’yah Gawga Windy Bay also carries ancestral stories. Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw carved the gyaagang with apprentices StllnGa Tyler York and John Bennett. During the process of carving the pole a 90-second, 7.8 magnitude megathrust earthquake shook the islands from 17.5km below Chiigasdlas Gandlaay Flat Creek on October 27, 2012. The earthquake was so powerful that it stopped the water flow at Gandll K’in Gwaay.yay Hotspring Island, 39 kilometres from its epicentre.
In recognition of this event, the carving team resolved to include Kuuya Gyaagandal Sacred-One-Standing-and-Moving as a figure on the Legacy Pole. Kuuya Gyaagandal was born at Kay Llnagaay where the Legacy Pole was carved. A story describes him meeting with the supernatural beings at Xaayna Gwaay.yay Maude Island to determine who would hold up Haida Gwaii. To win the honour, Kaagwaal Stone Ribs and Kuuya Gyaagandal faced off in a trial of endurance. Each removed hot stones from the fire, and held them against their chest. With the help of a ‘Waasgo Sea Wolf skin, Kuuya Gyaagandal prevailed. Today he balances Haida Gwaii with a tall pole on his chest. With his immense strength he keeps Haida Gwaii steady, but every so often a K’uuxuu Pine marten runs up and down the pole, sending vibrations through it, causing an earthquake.
Surprisingly it was no earthquake that triggered the return of the thermal waters at Gandll K’in In 2013 hot water seeps were discovered just below the high tide line and this November a Gwaii Haanas crew discovered near-full pools. Travellers can look forward to visiting the hotspring pools after May 2016 when Haida Gwaii Watchmen arrive to watch over the site.
Guudang ‘laa ad yahguudang dang’ad id kuuniisii g_aaw asii giiahlg_alang t’alang isda.
With gratitude and respect to our ancestors, this story is dedicated to them.