Gwaii Haanas – Expedition Log: Day 1

A 9-day expedition log through Haida Gwaii’s Islands of Beauty

Gwaii Haanas July 3-11, 2018
Crew: Captain Russell Markel, Deckhand Oriana Smy, Expedition Chef Erin Vickers, and Onboard Specialist:Graham “Jaahljuu” Richard

Disclaimer: Each day aboard the Passing Cloud is very full: full bellies, smiles, heads/hearts, and memory cards. An indeterminate amount of time and space is required to digest each and every moment, some which may present themselves as memories in later times. Please read with caution. Nostalgia and wanderlust may ensue.

Day 1: July 3

We all meet for the first time in front of Jags Beanstalk – a lovely B&B overlooking the picturesque Skidegate Inlet – eyes widened by the beauty of this place and excited about the coming days ahead. We go together as a group to Balance Rock, a rather precariously placed boulder, balanced impossibly-so by the perfect recipe of friction and gravity, left from the last glacial retreat some ~15,000 years ago. We allow this to set the tone for our week, to find balance within ourselves. Balance from our otherwise busy lives. We allow ourselves the space to disconnect from our routines and connect with the people and the place around us.

We arrive to Roberta Olson’s (or Keenawai’s Kitchen) in Skidegate for a traditional Haida dinner in her home. The perfect introduction to the local culture and welcoming hospitality of the Haida People. Kaya and Trey singing and drumming on the sunny deck overlooking Skidegate Inlet welcome us. Graham joins in and all together they sing welcome songs, paddling songs, and the supper song, just in time for dinner. With another group joining, Roberta has a full table today of over 20 people. The other dinner guests make up a local legal team known as the White Ravens, led by Indigenous lawyer, Terri-Lyn Williams Davidson – also a talented photographer, fashion designer, and singer, among many other talents. Just last year she had an exhibit at the Haida Gwaii Museum called Out of Concealment – a photographic story of Haida female supernatural beings.

Her husband, Robert Davidson, a world-renowned and widely respected Haida Artist, joined Terri-Lynn and the White Ravens. Robert apprenticed under Bill Reid and is known for being an instrumental figure in the resurgence of Haida culture, predominantly through traditional art. His masks, jewelry, and pole carvings are recognizable worldwide for his traditional Haida form.

“It has been the art that has brought us back to our roots. I am proud to be one of those people chosen to put the puzzle back together again and move on.”

– Robert Davidson

The White Raven Law Corporation is made up of a legal team with a focus on Indigenous communities and the challenges they face. Among many other cases, the team is working on the Indigenous Land title case, laid claim by Guujaaw and the Council of the Haida Nation in 2004 against “Her Majesty the Queen in right of the Province of British Columbia, and the Attorney General of Canada.” This is the claim of the Haida homeland to be returned to the Haida – to say the least, this is no small feat, but this team of dedicated, passionate, and determined group of Haida (and some non-Haida) leaders are working diligently to return this place to its people.

“From an aboriginal perspective, ownership over the land was never in question until someone arrived to contest it.”

— Ian Gill, All That We Say is Ours

To sit amongst this esteemed group feels like sitting amongst royalty here. We feel honoured to share the dinner table with them as we join in song led by Robert on the drum.

Huula ga taa! (Let’s eat!)

We enjoy a feast prepared by Keenawai and her family helpers. She says a blessing and explains what we’ll be having. To start, we have a scallop shell placed in front of us with four bite-size pieces to whet our appetite and introduce our pallets to traditional Haida fare: Fry bread (Saabalii), cured salmon (Ts’iljii), dried herring roe on kelp (K’aaw), and dried seaweed (S’kew).

Next up is jam (pronounced jum), a halibut and potato soup topped with a few drops of eulachon grease (taaw), traded from the mainland nations. For our main we have a sampling of many different proteins and starches. We have smoked salmon and fresh halibut caught by Keenwai’s sons, local venison (doing our part to help with the invasive species) served with local cranberries, candied sweet potatoes, rice with sea asparagus, mashed potatoes, and a fresh coleslaw with huckleberries. We also have a different variety of K’aaw from our appetizer. This version is fresh rather than dried. As we bite down, the herring roe pop and snap in our mouths for an unusual sensation. We finish with a local berry cake and a wild berry and nettle tea.

We give our thanks (haawa) to our hosts and fellow dinner guests and say goodnight to our fellow travellers, to enjoy our first sleep on Haida Gwaii, and be well rested and ready for more adventures tomorrow!