Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)

Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands Pictures
This photo of Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands is courtesy of TripAdvisor 

Up around the Southern border of Alaska, where it connects to BC, and slightly off shore, is a group of islands known as Haida Gwaii. Historically known as The Queen Charlotte Islands, the Haida Gwaii was officially renamed on June 3, 2010 as part of a reconciliation protocol between British Columbia and the Haida people. 

I like "Haida Gwaii" a lot better. It suits the place so well, and it should because the Pacific Northwest is the ancestral home of the Haida who lived there thousands of years before their home was appropriated by England.

Showing Haida Gwaii on the Pacific West Coast
[photo Sam Beebe]

It always amazes me to see the photos where orcas are swimming
along side the edges of the islands. Like you could stand on the shore
and still be able to admire them close up


Carpeted with moss, blanketed by arboreal rain forest and gnarled rocks spilling into the deep, crystal clear Pacific, it is as idyllic and picturesque as a group of non-tropical islands can be.

The island's slight isolation leaves it home to creatures that are not found elsewhere. The largest and smallest subspecies of black bear and a subspecies of ermine are unique to the area.

Kermode or Spirit Bear

I'm including some information about the Kermode bear because it is a symbol among the population of native Pacific Northwest people and because of its uniqueness and its range in proximity to Haida Gwaii. It is not an albino, nor is it a polar bear. The Kermode bear is a subspecies of Black bear. The Black bears in the area carry a recessive gene for white fur and when two black bears with the recessive gene mate, they produce a white cub. There are only about 400 of these bears in existence and they are only located here in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Approximately ten percent of the bear population is white.

Primarily found on Princess Royal Island, east of Hecate Strait between Haida Gwaii and BC's west coast, Kermode bears range southward and north as far as the Alaska panhandle

While Kermode bears are protected, it is legal to hunt Black bears in this area. This undermines the protection afforded to the Kermode bears because it reduces the gene pool of bears carrying this recessive white gene. You would assume with our knowledge of genetics and the uniqueness of this bear, that black bears within this range would be protected also, because it would make more sense to preserve the gene, carried by black and white bears, as well as the actual white bear produced by this gene, eh? But no.



Haida Gwaii is made up of many islands

It has been called "Galápagos of the North", because of its unique bio-cultural zone with many endemic kinds of plants and animals. The climate of this temperate north hemisphere forested region, like that of much of the British Columbia and Alaskan coast in the area, is moderated by the North Pacific Current, with heavy rainfall and relatively mild temperatures throughout the year.[wiki

[photo: Adrian Dorst

Wiki says:
The islands are home to a wide variety of large endemic trees, including the Sitka spruce, western red cedar, yellow cedar (Nootka cypress), shore pine, western hemlock, mountain hemlock, and red alder. 
The only known example of this variant was cut down in 1997 by an activist 
as a protest against logging.

Kiidk'yaas (The Golden Spruce), a naturally occurring genetic-variant yellow-coloured Sitka spruce tree, was located near the Yakoun River, the largest on Graham Island. 

[photo: Mike Beauregard]

It has a moderate climate, is on a fault line that generates more earthquakes than the average Canadian island but the thing you will recognize from the Haida is this:


Totems in Stanley Park, Vancouver
Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands Pictures
is courtesy of TripAdvisor


Deep with symbolism you could say Haida art is more than a pretty face. Each figure carved into a totem represents something personal to the Haida. Below are images representing some of the common totems. Unless otherwise credited, all art is by Bill Reid and the totem symbolic meanings I got here.



Raven - The mercurial trickster of Northwest Coast Native lore. Curious and mischievous  often misbehaving but never boring.



Sea Turtle - This totem is representative of Mother Earth.



Thunderbird - A mythological bird known to manifest the rolling of thunder while beating its wings and creating lightening when blinking it's eyes.  Known to kill whales.

Soaring Eagle by Fred Croydon


Eagle - Intelligent and resourceful. He rules the sky and is able to transform himself into a human.



Wolf - Very powerful totem who can help people that are sick or in need.



Bear -  A teacher symbol as it is believed that Bear taught the People to catch salmon and pick berries.

by axcho


Frog - Known for bringing wealth and is associated with Copper Woman.  In another myth, frog was held down in fire, when it burst lava flowed and engulfed an entire village.

complete with sea urchin


Otter - The otter is a mischievous creature that is also a symbol of laughter, curiosity, grace, and empathy.



Salmon - The salmon symbolizes instinct, persistence, and determination.



Owl - The owl is a very respected animal and is thought to symbolize the souls of the departed.

Haida style  Orca by Fred Croydon


Killer Whale - Whales are honored as strong and brave fish. The mythology of the killer whale is that is will bring food and assistance to a chief or other important person lying helpless and/or wounded.


Featured on our $20 bill, this is Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid. Each animal
represents a spirit or quality, what is the story here?









what is a group of sea otters called? A raft. Seriously.















Now that's an infinity pool

If you're in the area, chances are you will drive nearby Vancouver. Since you're so close, and since you've probably seen this picture all kinds of places on line, you may as well check this out:

Capilano Suspension Bridge. I've been on it. If you use the people as context,
you can get an idea of how large this bridge and these trees are

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