While visiting Tanu, a young girl named Breezy—the grand-daughter of one of the watchmen on the island—scampered about in the brilliant sunshine, delighting everyone with her childlike love of nature. She paused to pose among bleached whale bones on the beach.
While leading our group of kayakers around an old site, a husband and wife team cheerfully explained that they serve as watchmen every year. It’s their working holiday away from their jobs at the band council office. They get the chance to entertain their audiences with stories of ancient times while relishing the peace and quiet of island life.
On yet another island, a young couple arrived by boat with boxes of groceries. They were taking over the site from a graduate student who had spent the better part of his summer break sharing his knowledge with the constant flow of tourists. Now, it was the couple’s turn to live in the watchman’s cabin. As they unpacked their supplies, we were struck by their commitment. They had left their children with relatives and would be on the site for at least a month.
At Hotspring Island, we met a proud grandmother who regaled us with tales of her favourite grand-daughter. This grand-daughter had done very well in school that year—mostly A’s and a couple of B’s. The gracious matriarch had been coming to Hotspring Island for many summers. She showed us a woven cedar hat she was working on, that, unfortunately, was not for sale. Although her creations could easily sell for $500 to $800 each, she gives them away to family and friends. That particular hat was for her precious granddaughter. Talk of family weaved into her speech as surely as the cedar strips were woven into the hat.
At our last stop, while a well-spoken man showed us the decaying totem poles, he told us of spending his youth logging on the mainland. Now, he had returned to the islands and was proudly sharing his culture and the ways of the Haida. He laughed as he spoke of his two-year-old son. “He’s quite a handful. Just like I used to be.”
We learned about the Raven and Eagle moieties, or clans. We visualized what village life must have been like before and after contact with “those from away.” We tried to understand the Haida’s decision to let their poles return naturally to the earth, instead of trying to preserve them. Then we realized that, like the poles and ancient house beams, the Haida are also returning to their roots.