We arrived late to Rockfish yesterday afternoon and it turned out to be a wonderfully protected and comfortable location to spend the night. Not much chance to explore, but two crab traps brought up two crab… a red rock crab and a purple graceful crab… neither worth keeping so we returned them to their home. Anchors were up at 8:00 a.m. this morning, our destination today is Tanu Island aka T’aanuu Llnagaay in the Haida language.
Our watchman guide’s name was Grace and she related the story of the original village of Tanu which is included in this blog as it was told to us. At its height, Tanu had a population of 547, one of the largest populations in the archipelago. This community was unique in many ways. Firstly, it included both Eagle and Raven sections and each clan had relationships with others in the area adding to their stature and safety.
Grace pointed out an area on shore where clam gardens had purposely been designed using rocks to protect the shores and create a sheltered garden when sediment would collect with rock piles to entice octopus. When the tide receded, the table was set for collecting a variety of shellfish and other foods.
In 1878, Chief of Eagles and Ravens, Chief Clew, hosted one of the last potlaches here inviting over 500 people to help rebuild his house with some modern modifications including iron ties in the roof beams and steps to access the different levels rather than ladders. The frontal pole told the story of the great flood when Kingee grew the mountains and White Raven rose the waters around Haida Gwaii.
Next, it is the birthplace of Bill Reid, a famous Haida carver who has carved numerous sculptures including “The Raven and the First Men” and “The Black Canoe.” Bill Reid, aka Ljuwas was part of the Wolf Clan. When he died, his remains were returned to the island in a war canoe “Lutas” that Bill Reid had carved. Three orca whales circled the canoe as it neared the shores of Tanu. His remains were interred in a cedar bent-wood box on the island’s cemetery along with Chief Cheexial, and two mass graves holding many of the citizens and their children who succumbed to smallpox during the epidemic.
As we stood in the cemetery, Grace retold the heart-breaking story of the demise of most of the population that eventually resulted in abandonment of the once thriving village of Tanu. The people had experienced three separate rounds of smallpox, the first from the initial encounters with Europeans, second when some of their own people returned, inadvertently spreading the infection and lastly when blankets that had been purposely inoculated with smallpox were “gifted” to the people in an attempt to exterminate them.
As we motored back to our boats, grateful for Grace’s tour, we looked back at the lush forest thick with moss enveloping every pole, returning them to the earth in the Haida tradition with little left to suggest that such a thriving vibrant community existed so recently.