Haida Gwaii and the Masters of the Pacific Coast

I've thoroughly enjoyed the BBC4 documentary programme on the First Nation people of the Pacific Coast of the US, Canada and Alaska.  The British Museum's Dr Jago Cooper made the same journey, both physical and historical, that I made last year in search of a people who have managed to survive for more than 10,000 years in the same environment without destroying it.   Very few other cultures have succeeded in doing that - most of them have been wiped out by Western 'incomers' who regarded their own cultures as 'advanced' and superior.  That's a viewpoint that has succeeded in polluting and exploiting the entire planet.
The Mortuary and Memorial poles of Ninstints, Haida Gwaii
Watching Jago Cooper canoeing round the coastal inlets and tramping through ancient woodlands made me very nostalgic for Haida Gwaii, Cormorant Island and the many other places I visited.  I longed to go back.  He met many of the people I met too - Haida artists and carvers, museum curators. But he stayed well clear of the politics.  The daily fight for their landrights against oil companies and forestry corporations was barely touched on.  But he did, in Programme 2, confront the genocide perpetrated by the government of British Columbia which left only 500 out of 30,000 people on Haida Gwaii alive.  It is a tribute to the strength of their culture that they survived.  As their declaration in the preamble to the Haida Constitution affirms:

'Our culture is born of respect and intimacy with the land and sea and the air around us.  Like the forest, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot over come us.'

Jago Cooper
There's a very good review of the programme over at The Arts Desk.  I will be watching the repeats too, feeding my longing to return to the lands of the Haida Nation, the Tlingit and the Coastal Salish.  For anyone who wants to read more (with full colour illustrations) about the people of the Pacific Coast, my book, Travelling to the Edge of the World,  is available through Amazon and to be ordered from all good bookshops.  It can also be purchased by emailing thebookmill@ferberjones.com for £9.00 + P&P


Popular Posts