Friday, February 23, 2018

“Walk softly, Tread carefully, and listen”…

“Walk softly, Tread carefully, and listen”…


SGang Gwaay - photo: Tom Stoeri


SGang Gwaay – previously named Ninstints (after one of the village chiefs) is an ancient Haida village, located on Anthony Island, at the southern end of Haida Gwaii. Accessible only by boat or plane, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and contained within the National Park Reserve and Heritage Site, Gwaii Haanas. But even if it didn’t boast all the formerly mentioned credentials, it would still remain one of the most magical places on our coast.

One aspect of SGang Gwaay’s magic is the stories that contribute to the village’s history. For several thousand years it was the home of the Kunghit Haida, historically some of the most feared warriors on the west coast. When the small pox epidemic hit in the late 1800’s, SGang Gwaay’s population was decimated from around 300 to 30 and those who survived moved north to Skidegate. The village was abandoned in 1884.

In 1959 a CBC, a crew from the B.C. Provincial Museum and University of British Columbia visited the village to remove several of the Haida poles in order to protect them from the weather and from poaching. Two of the crew members were Bill Reid, world renowned Haida carver and Wilson Duff, Provincial Museum curator. The removed poles were so large that they had to cut them into sections in order to transport. Today you can visit these ancient poles at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology.

Captain Gold - photo: Tom Thayer
Another person whose has been a key player in the recent story of SGang Gwaay is Captain Gold. In the 1970’s he paddled a canoe down from Skidegate to SGang Gwaay, nearly 250 kms of hazardous seas. People thought he was mad – they knew the village was full of the spirits of the ancestors, and couldn’t understand why he’d want to be there alone. But Captain Gold saw the importance being there to welcome visitors and make sure that the village remains were not removed. He single-handedly changed the image of the village and became the proto-type Haida Watchman. By the late 1980’s the Haida Nation decided to send other elders to other uninhabited villages with the same purpose of watching over the area. In 1987 when Gwaii Haanas was officially created, the Haida Watchmen became the figurehead program that employs local Haida, gives youth a chance to learn more about their heritage, and allows visitors a chance to hear the stories from the Haida people, themselves.

SGang Gwaay is indeed a magical place, full of stories, so if you get the chance to visit this incedible village site, heed the advice of Captain Gold’s sister, Haida watchman Irene - “Walk softly, Tread carefully, and listen”…

Join Bluewater Adventures on one of our early Haida Gwaii trips to experience the solitude of SGang Gwaay during the slow season.

by Randy Burke

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