TRIBES

Haida
LOCATION: British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands
POPULATION: First contact documented a population of 15,000 people. This dramatically declined in the 1860s due to the arrival of smallpox. By the early 1990s the entire Haida population was 600.
LANGUAGE: Haida
DESCRIPTION:

The Haida People call themselves Xaadaa 7Iaa Isiss, “The Good People”. They have lived on British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii, Canada, for at least 5000 years. Their economy was traditionally based on hunting and fishing (salmon, halibut, cod, and shellfish). They are renowned for their stone carvings and woodworking, especially their houses and “totem poles” (which often relate the history of a family through the symbolism of the carvings). Haida Gwaii is heavily forested with cedar trees which have played a vital role in economy and culture for the tribe, for building houses, canoes and storage boxes. Among the items Haida artisans have created are ceremonial masks, beautiful and sometimes intricate objects with moving parts, such as the ritual mask in Brenchley’s collection. Masks were used in events such as secret society meetings and potlatches, or ceremonial feasts, and were believed to give the wearer the power to communicate with the spirit world.

The first documented contact between Haida and Europeans was in 1774 when it’s thought their population numbered in the region of 15,000. The population declined dramatically as a result of diseases like smallpox brought over from Europeans, or the Yaats Xaadee, “Iron People”. Population was reduced down to a little over 1,500 by the early 1860s and less than 600 by the first quarter of the twentieth century. The influx of Americans into British Columbia during the 1860s was as a result of gold fields.

Today there are few Haida people with only two communities left in Canada, the Masset and Skidegate. A great threat to these surviving communities is the logging of forests. Many Haida fear that if logging companies deplete forests plant and animal life will be seriously affected.