Sunday, 12 July 2009

HAIDA GWAII

HAIDA GWAII - THE QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS
My decades-long interest in the Haida struggle to preserve these 150 islands (10,180 sqkm) from gold seekers and loggers has been enhanced by my niece, Lisa, and her husband taking up residence there, building and renting cottages, and advertising their activities on the web site www.allthebeachyoucaneat.com

These islands escaped the last glaciation and are known as the Galapagos of the North. The Haida, Vikings of the Pacific, sailed and rowed from there as far south as Oregon (see the back of the Canadian $20 bill). Haida Gwaii was home to some 10,000 Haida in dozens of villages. We say that Haida have been there for 12,000 years, but the Haida know that long before that, Wise, but Mischievous, Raven cracked open a large clam shell from which the Haida emerged to give rise to the human species.

The first European to visit was Spain’s Juan PĂ©rez in 1774, followed by James Cook in 1778, and George Dixon who surveyed the islands in 1787, naming them after his ship that was named for the wife of George III. In 1853 the islands became a colony of Britain who gave them to British Columbia in 1863. The two main islands are Graham (north) and Moresby (south).

European diseases, such as small pox, typhoid, measles, and syphilis crashed the Haida population to 350 by 1900. The current mixed population is 5,000, about half Haida. Initially the Haida discouraged White greed by capturing and sinking their vessels and holding the crews for ransom that had to be paid in blankets. Since the gold rush days of 1851 it has been a continual struggle against loggers of the unique rain forest, half of which has now been clear cut, causing erosion, aggravated by the importation of deer that eat all new sprouts. With the help of environmentalists the Haida succeeded in 1988 in having the federal government dedicate the lower half of Moresby Island to Gwaii Haanas National Park (1,470 sqkm). In 2006 Anthony Island and the historic, but abandoned, village of Ninstints with its totems was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of 15 in Canada). The other large protected area in Haida Gwaii is the 180,000-acre (726 sqkm) Naikoon Provincial Park on the NE corner of Graham Island. Three smaller areas total 112 sqkm.

Lisa’s cottages are 16 km east of Masset (population 965), just inside Naikoon Park on the coast. A roving, free spirit, Lisa, at age 19, flew from Toronto to London to work in a pub to earn enough to tour the UK and western Europe, then worked in Switzerland to finance eastern Europe tours, then it was a kibbutz in Israel before touring SE Asia and living in Australia. She returned to Port Hope, Ontario, worked in her Dad's appliance and furniture store, took university courses in Toronto, then drove to Vancouver for work and more courses, including slipping down to Seattle to add another degree to her collection. She married a kindred soul, Rich, and they have been building, renting, and selling homes in Prince Rupert and the Charlottes. Some 20 years ago it was Rich who led scientists to the site where they could prove Haida Gwaii had escaped the last glaciation.

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