A new totem pole the height of a three-storey building now looms over the southern Haida Gwaii, carved with symbols to note the remote land is protected from ocean floor to mountaintop.
Hundreds gathered in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to watch the nearly 3,000-kilogram pole raised using six ropes and sheer manpower, the first such raising in over a century. Spectators were dwarfed by the colourful and intricate pole, which took more than a year to carve and paint and represents Gwaii Haanas’ modern and ancient history.
The pole was created to celebrate the 20th anniversary of an agreement between the Haida Nation and the government of Canada that allows both to co-manage and protect the region.
The ceremony Thursday took place on Lyell Island, where the Haida Nation led a political standoff in 1985 to protest logging in the area. The Gwaii Haanas region was subsequently designated a heritage site and a national park reserve.
Peter Lantin, the Haida Nation’s president, told the gathering the pole was the perfect way to tell the story of the resolution of that conflict.
The 1985 blockade is represented by five people standing together, locking hands, in the totem pole carved by Jaalen Edenshaw, with help from his brother and his cousin. Mr. Edenshaw was five years old at the time of the standoff.
Spectactors on Haida Gwaii were also joined by nearly 1,000 people watching a live stream of the ceremony online.
“The Haida traditions are alive and strong with the added twist of technology so the world can bear witness to this remarkable event,” said Carolyn Hesseltine.
Many commented on the emotional nature of the event.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Olivia Edwards wrote in comments on the live stream site.
“I have no words to describe the emotions that have consumed me. The tears flow easily,” said LeeAnn Hughes. “So very proud and grateful for who I am.”
Although the totem pole was raised in celebration of the co-operation between Haida Nation and the government, its meaning extends beyond the 20-year anniversary of the agreement.
Ten months ago, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck Haida Gwaii, triggering tsunami warnings and halting hot water from flowing into Hot Springs Island in Gwaii Haanas.
Haida legend has it the quake was the work of a supernatural being – its translated name is Sacred One Standing and Moving – who is believed to hold up the Haida Gwaii and is responsible for the tremors that strike the islands.
An image of the Sacred One, symbolizing the powerful quake last year, has also been carved into the soft red cedar of the pole.