To lay the copper on the floor
Graham Richard —
Haida welcomed about thirty Haíłzaqv Heiltsuk delegates to the Islands this September 25 to take part in a conversation kuuniisii ancestors began over 125 years ago. The Peace Treaty meetings are part of an ongoing international conversation formalized through potlatch law over a century ago. In 2015, Haíłzaqv and Haida leaders potlatched the treaty at Waglisla Bella Bella once again. There, the Nations formalized their partnership in the three-page Treaty of Peace, Respect and Responsibility. Sixty-eight representatives from all levels of Heiltsuk and Haida government signed the document along with Wet’suwet’en and Nuu-chah-nulth witnesses.
Haida hereditary leadership welcomed 27 Haíłzaqv delegates to Haida Gwaii at Naagudgiikyaagangs Skidegate Community Hall in HlGaagilda Skidegate on Monday morning. Without hesitation the allied Nations delved into the conversation their ancestors started generations ago.
“It’s so powerful when our communities get together and work as a group,” Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council Ǧáǧvi Marilyn Slett said. “I think that’s where a lot of our excitement, momentum and synergy is from coming from. We’re looking forward to the dialogue here and seeing how we can support the Haida Nation, and support each other going forward. I know there’s really good things to come from bringing our people together.”
Each nation had presented the other with a t’aaGuu copper shield as part of official business in 2014 and 2015. This year the allies placed these t’aaGuu amongst themselves to witness their discussion. All the business conducted at the 2017 meetings is now contained in the t’aaGuu.
“In our ceremonies we lay the copper down on the floor,” explained Haíłzaqv historian and HIRMD Board Chair Duqva’aisla William Housty. “So it can be a part of our discussions and validate what we’re doing here amongst our two great nations. So we’re going to open up and do that here.”
On Tuesday morning the delegation toured Saahlinda Naay Haida Gwaii Museum at Ḵay Llnagaay. The Haida monumental columns and objects at Kay Llnagaay contain stories that show how coastal nations are interconnected. Collection curator Gid Yah’kii Sean Young and Cultural Ambassador Gaad Gas Raven Ryland explained these relationships as they led delegates through Saahlinda Naay.
In the evening community members arrived at Naagudgiikyaagangs with dinner prepared. Story, song and dance followed and the nations reiterated kinship’s. Haida hereditary leader and former President of the Haida Nation Gidansda presented the delegates with a gaagiixit mask he had carved. They danced the mask around Naagudgiikyaagangs, holding it high to the sound of drumming and singing.
The many hours of story, song and dance continued at another feast in Gaaw on Wednesday. After feasting, the Haida and Haíłzaqv communities danced together in full regalia to songs they and their ancestors had gifted to one another.
National leadership spent the days discussing their treaty, the Reconciliation Protocol Agreement, the Haida Title Case, tanker traffic, fracking, forestry, Coastal First Nations, the women’s council, and fisheries. Senior technical staff and stewardship directors discussed mapping, lands, heritage, marine planning, and Guardian Watchmen.
The t’aaGuu are just two of many properties exchanged through potlatch law to affirm the alliance since the original oral peace treaty. When kuuniisii established the original peace treaty Haida gave Haíłzaqv three songs that both nations continue to sing today. Sometime later Hemas Harry Humchitt received a paddle song at a feast in Haida Gwaii. At a potlatch in Gaaw, in 2014, Haida gave Haíłzaqv a box drum, a peace song by SGaalanglaay Vern Williams, and a monumental ts’uu Red cedar. In 2015, in Waglisla, Haíłzaqv gave Haida a monumental ts’uu, an iinang herring song, a mask portraying a Haíłzaqv and Haida ancestor, Tanis cedar rings and the Tanis ceremony.
Haíłzaqv delegates included: Zuiit George Housty; Hemas, Heiltsuk Tribal Council member, and Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department board member Q̀víɫtakv Earl Newman Sr; Hemas and HIRMD Research Liaison Coordinator Wígvíɫba-Wákas Harvey Humchitt Sr; Hemas Q̀a̓ít Arnold Humchitt; Hemas Hṃ́zit-Lagaud Ken Campbell; Hemas Taḷtṃx Mark White; Hemas W̓úm̓akn Mel Innes; Haíłzaqv historian and HIRMD Board Chair Duqva’aisla William Housty; HTC Chief Councilor Ǧáǧvi Marilyn Slett; HTC Councillor Pamela Wilson; HIRMD Administration Assistant Hawilthpaeesaht Claire Newman; HIRMD Director Núkva Kelly Brown; HIRMD Financial Administrator Qvúsax̌ḷyuqvs Faye Housty; Reconciliation Language table member H̓áláǧṃiɫ Frances Brown; Reconciliation Language table member Kániɫmi Elizabeth Brown; HIRMD Aquatics Manager Mike Reid; retired school principal Kániɫ’u Brenda Humchitt; Laǧaxnix Shirley Windsor; Qvúskas Bernard Windsor; HIRMD Assistant Aquatics Manager Diana Chan; HIRMD Reconciliation Community Coordinator Kelly Turza Lawson; Yagís Rennell Mason; retired Registered Nurse, Elizabeth Wilson; Ann Housty; Sadie Reid; and Taylor Lawson.