The Haida People of the Canadian Northwest Coast
By Shyann Gilmour
The Haida people had an extremely complex social organization. They were highly respected by their peers and those they traded with and were feared by those who were at war with them. Their art continues to flourish today and many traditions have survived into today’s world. The Natives of the Northwest Coast have been a group of Natives with the worlds attention, while some may stay to look at museum exhibits concerning the Woodland Native for a few minutes, almost every will devote a lot more time to the Northwest Coast. They style of life and art have survived an extremely long time without too much deviation from the original plans. Within in the structure of the Northwest coast peoples various subclasses have been established according to the different peoples whereabouts, such people include, the Bella Bella, the Heilsuk and the Haida.
The Location of the Haida People
The Haida of British Columbia live primarily on a set of Islands off the northern shore of British Columbia called the Queen Charlotte Islands also known as “Haida Gwaii” The Islands themselves are at the northern end of British Columbia close to the provinces boarder with Alaska. The Islands themselves differ in terrain from north to south. The southern islands are mainly mountainous, with Moresby Island being the largest. The largest northern Island, Graham is mountainous on the western side and flat with isolated outcrops of rock on the east side, is where the Haida of today currently reside. Many different types of plants and vegetation grow on these Islands but the typical trees one will find are the Douglas fir, Sitica Spruce and yellow cedar The average rainfall within this region is between 100 and 200 centimetres per year, which classifies this area as a rainforest. Land mammals include such creatures as deer and bear as well as a host of smaller mammals and sea creatures include mammals such as whale, seal, Orca and porpoise as well as many types of fish including salmon, herring, cod and halibut.
The earliest tools used by the Haida people included roughly flaked stone tools and an ocean going canoe. As time went on and the trade with other people to the north of them expanded smaller finer micro blades (ideally made from obsidian) began to be used. As time wore on the tools that the Haida were able to fashion and use broadened, as they not only came into contact with other peoples but also their own self-knowledge expanded. Tools used by the Haida varied in size, function and form. Those used for house building can include items such as sledgehammers, adzes, hand mauls and wedges for splitting the wood. Usually Haida house building tools were not decorated however there have been some examples found such as a carved basalt maul (carved into the form of a face of a bear with the naturalistic head of a hunter above it) and a sledgehammer (carved into the head of a Thunderbird holding a small whale) Boxes, which came in many forms and made from many materials held the Haidas everyday things. These boxes could be made from simply sowing cedar bark together at the corners and the base to create storage for trade items or could be a more durable box such as the bentwood boxes. These bentwood boxes could be as large as 225 litres or as small as only a few litres. Boxes were used to store almost everything the Haida owned or traded, foodstuffs, ritual paraphernalia (such as rattles, whistles and hats), clothing, regalia even grease traded by the Tsimshian would be stored in these boxes. Generally boxes that contained food were left undecorated, but if the box were to contain important or expensive objects the box would be decorated with the form of a guardian spirit of some sort. The Haida canoe is one of the more well known sea faring vessels that have been made by a native group. The extremely long and wide vessels not only carried out day-to-day functions...
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