Today we will cruise from Sedgwick Bay, on the west side of Lyell Island to Windy Bay, an exposed bight on the east side to visit the site of an old Haida village. In recent years, the Haida have built a more modern long house and in 2013, erected the first monumental pole in Gwaii Haanas in 130 years.
Conditions upon our arrival at Windy Bay were calm however, finding safe anchorage for four boats required us to anchor in a nearby bay. Sea Stock chose to visit Hotspring Island and relax in the hotsprings there and Pamelican chose to cruise directly to Matheson Inlet and take a day to relax at anchor.
We took two dinghies ashore and were greeted by “Latta”, the watchman at this location. Latta is a very kind man, clearly both proud of his Haida heritage as well as very politically active in preserving the cultural lands, history, and culture. We were seated in facing a beautifully carved and carefully painted totem. Latta started at the bottom of the pole and interpreted each figure from the bottom of the pole to the very top. His explanation was delivered with heartfelt enthusiasm and animated movements making the story of the pole even more intriguing.
A sculpin sits at the bottom of the pole representing the watery extremes of the sea and all of its inhabitants. The sculpin represented one of the Haida crests. Above that, a grizzly bear was represented with its claws and ears, but the teeth and eyebrows looked rather human representing its supernatural transformation. No grizzlies exist on Haida Gwaii today, but ancient oral stories claim that that they once did. Oral history is sometimes doubted by anthropologists but later found to be grounded in evidence as was the case with grizzlies when a cave with both grizzly, domestic dog and human bones all were dated to 14,000 years ago. A dog’s face is carved in the left ear while a human’s face is in the right ear.
“Five Good People” sit atop the bear. In the center is the spirit guide (no shoes) flanked by two Haida women representing the importance of women in the Haida culture and on the outside are two non-Haida people representing the solidarity of all those who worked to protect Gwaii Haanas during the Lyell Island Protests.
Raven is perched above them representing the importance of one of the two moieties of the Haida, Raven and Eagle. Above Raven is “Sacred One Standing and Moving” a supernatural being holding up the post that supports Haida Gwaii; when he moves, the island shakes.
Next is “Wasco” a supernatural Seawolf transforming from wolf to fish as represented by the fins wrapped around its body. A marten above Wasco runs up the pole holding Haida Gwaii creating a sound before the big earthquake.
Above the marten are the three watchmen watching over Gwaii Haanas to ensure “Yahguudang”- respect for other and the place. At the very top of the totem is eagle, representing the connection to the sky.
Hlk’yah Gawga, the Haida name for Windy Bay, was one of the sites where the Haida protested the logging on Lyell Island. The construction of “Looking Around and Blinking House” was part of the protest effort. In 1985, the Haida took a stand on the logging road to Sedgwick Bay which ultimately led to the establishment of Gwaii Haanas as a cooperatively managed protected area.