Totem poles, songs, dances. Haida art with its time-honoured protocol and distinct forms, which allow a highlight of the seamless fluidity of cedar, the skilled adze work leaves the totem poles barely static in their power. Painted woven cedar hats, abalone and argalite, ornate masks and dances. These are the parts of our Haida culture and tradition that everyone is proud of, the parts that we show, that are scattered around museums worldwide. These parts have withstood generations of degradation and attempted eradication.

Through no fault of our own, the traditions that the Haida hold through ceremony, art, and food gathering have been on the edge of lost. For centuries, Canada has viciously attempted to destroy our language, carvings, weaving, stories, potlatches and medicinal practices. Generations of cultural genocide have created an ever present fear of losing our culture. Growing up with this mounting insecurity made me realize the importance and strength of my traditions. Canada attempted to eradicate our Nation and culture, that which it deemed the “Indian Problem”. They attempted this through banning traditional practices such as potlatches, and through cultural genocide in the form of residential schools and the 60s scoop. These policies meant that, for generations, our culture could only be passed on illicitly and in an isolated manner.

 

                                     

My culture is now being revitalized, but so much of it was held by only a handful of people. My grandfather learned our songs, our dances from his grandmother, with blankets covering the windows so the authorities could not see. His generation stood against natural resource extractors, allowing for the protection of my land. If it was not for the ceaseless fighting of a handful of people, my culture would not have continued to me.

Haida art and dance express the true foundations of Haida life and culture: our connection to the land fostered by stewarding it, food gathering from it and traveling on it. The celebrations of these aspects of that which makes us Haida are monumentally important for our spirituality, and every part of these ceremonies and cultural practices stem from the land we belong to. The true primary aspect of Haida culture, however, is the way in which we gather food, and connect firsthand to the land.  It is this connection that all the art and ceremonies express. Now that the external, government-mandated moratorium on our culture is over, there has been an explosion of revitalization and incredible strength in all aspects of our culture, from language to art and dance. My father recently raised a totem pole at Gwaii Haanas, a Haida heritage site—the first one raised at these ancestral villages in over a hundred and eighty years.

However, now our culture faces another great risk, one that threatens every aspect of our already critically endangered language and the other cultural aspects. This is a lack of access to our land, and a changing relationship with it due to the colonial state’s ceaseless non consensual exploitation of it. Our land, and with it our connection that is the essence of all we are that is curated through continuous interaction, is deeply at risk. Language comes from our land, as do stories, morality, livelihood and the food that sustains us. This relationship is not necessarily tangible or definable, but it is integral. Alienation from our relationship with land leads to the same effects as the spiritual and ceremonial alienation that the Haida have been forced to endure. There is great risk and uncertainty when considering the future of the Haida Nation.

I am committed to maintaining Haida stewardship of our land and avoiding its destruction. My relationship with the intertwined land and culture are integral to my being, and I have the responsibility to ensure the cultural transmission and land transmission to future generations. I cannot imagine fighting to the point where the next generation is in a place of cultural or land security, a thought which has the potential to make this fight seem hopeless, but the next generation deserves at least as much land and language to fight for as I was given through the sacrifices of all my ancestors’ generations. This is why I am an environmental activist- why I am suing the Canadian government for their part in worsening the climate crisis. There is a real danger that the work of Haida ancestors since time immemorial dies with my generation, due to the loss of land and change in climate we will face. But, as the generations before me, my generation will never stop defending our land for the future.

 

Haana Edenshaw

Author Haana Edenshaw

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