SGang Gwaay Llnagaay

SGang Gwaay Llnagaay is a Haida village site that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. SGang Gwaay is the Haida name for the island on which the village is located though it shows on the charts as Anthony Island. Llnagaay means town or village. The name SGang Gwaay “refers to the wailing sound made when winds push through a hole in the rocks at a certain tide level” (see this link and this one for more information). The village is also known as Ninstints or Nang Sdins Llnagaay after one of the chiefs that lived here. The island is off the west side of the south end of Moresby Island, about 10km from Kilgii Gwaay, in an extremely exposed part of the coast. While the distance seems short, this stretch of water is often unpleasant with strong tides sharpening and elevating already large waves. Some days the trip is just not possible. Fortunately, the wind settled enough so that on our last day at Kilgii Gwaay we could include a trip to SGang Gwaay so that Dale Croes could see it for the first time, and so that the rest of us, and especially the Haida crew, could recharge our batteries at this very special place.

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In Canada today is National Aboriginal Day and the SGang Gwaay World Heritage Site seems to be an excellent way to mark this day. SGang Gwaay is managed by Parks Canada and the Haida, with a Haida Watchmen’s station is located near to the site, staffed several months of the year by Haida who schedule and accompany all visitors to the site and share knowledge about the place and their traditions, as well as ensuring that the site is treated in a fully respectful manner. They also look after the site, keeping vegetation down around the poles and are active in a conservation program to ensure the poles last as long as possible in a way that is sympathetic to the aesthetics of the place, and to Haida cultural values.

 

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SGang Gwaay is a monument to Haida culture and art and the past. But, it is also an inspiration to the Haida of today. Every time I have visited this location over the years I have been accompanied by young Haida colleagues, sometimes on their first visits here. It is always an emotional experience to be there with them, to see their reverence for the place, and the intensity with which they study it to learn and take knowledge and experience home to their communities on northern Haida Gwaii. There, many people have never or only very rarely visited this remote place. The inspiration they take from their visits tells me that SGang Gwaay is as much about Haida future as it is about their past.

 

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Jordan, pictured below, was with me the first time I visited SGang Gwaay 20 years ago and it was a true pleasure to meet him there again this year, as I had not seen him for 15 or more years. For three field seasons in the early 90’s (when our moustaches had not a single grey hair) we worked together finding and recording the locations of archaeological sites in the then newly formed Gwaii Haanas so that they could be properly managed. We worked on some testing programs after that for a couple more short stints in Gwaii Haanas. It seems to me so appropriate that someone that has walked most of the shorelines of Gwaii Haanas and is intimately familiar with most of the recorded cultural sites from the last 11,000 years should be chosen as a cultural steward, ensuring that respect for the land and culture is instilled in the visitors.

 

Jordan Yeltatzie, Watchman, SGang Gwaay

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This link catalogues my posts on the Kilgii Gwaay 2012 project. I was accompanied on this trip by Tansy, one of the Quimper Hittys, who is blogging about the trip from a doll’s view. You can find those posts here. She too is featuring her visit to SGang Gwaay in her post today which can be found at this location,  in colour.

Canon 5Dii, Nikkor-N 24mm/f2.8 lens and SMC Takumar 100mm/f4 macro lens.

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23 thoughts on “SGang Gwaay Llnagaay

  1. My memory is so bad, that until I started reading the text, I was unaware that I had seen the images before. Strange, as text is mostly whayt I forget, while images tend to stick around a lot longer. So reading this post again I remembered how heartening it is to know that not only is this site being protected, but that it is still a living part of the Haida culture. I would love to visit one day. The closest thing to this that I have seen was in San Augustin, Colombia, but the settings were very manicured and it is no longer part of a living culture.

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    • I think that is the key to what makes this place so special, that it is part of a living culture, and an extremely important part. It is really hard to get to, or at least really expensive, but worth the effort and expense I think. This place is a bit manicured, but in a gentle way. The trees have been removed that were growing on some of the poles and house frames, and the grass is kept low to improve sight lines and to indicate clearly where visitors may and may not walk. The edges of walkways are marked out shells and no other barriers, and no signage either, but rather interpreters during the tourist season. It is very well done.

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  8. Ephem these are incredible images and equally incredible story. I have been to Haida Gwaii for more than a week in 1996 but the weather was not co-operative to make this visit. Your post takes me there in a way that no other reference has been able to do. Thank you 🙂

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    • Thanks so much Terrill, that is a wonderful comment. I am sorry you could not get there, it is deeply frustrating to be close but stymied. We thought we would not be able to go either, the forecast was lousy, but somehow the wind held off long enough for us to visit. I was there last year too, so for me it would not have been a huge loss, but some of us had not been, or had not been for years, and it would have been deeply frustrating to miss out by just 10 or 11km. Perhaps you will be able to go again. The Rose Harbour folk put people up that come in by float plane and then take them around the area in their seaworthy boats, so there are some good options these days. Expensive though.

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    • Thank you Lynn! I am glad you like the portrait – I do as well. It was so nice to see him again after many years. And he was very gracious about having his picture taken too 🙂

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  9. Hi Ehpem, I reckon this to be one of your top photographic postings. The photographs convey information and have a pronounced mood. These are powerful images. Initially the first three photographs were my immediate favorites but everyone of them is great. The dramatic black isolates the foreground beautifully and the detail that needs to be seen shows clearly. The first photograph is sort of like revisiting Emily Carr.

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    • Thanks so much Joseph – that is indeed a compliment. I am pleased to have conveyed a mood that is close to what it is like to be there. I think I understand some of what inspired Emily Carr when I visit places like this (not that there are many, and this is the best).

      There is an interesting story in the second shot. That pole, and others nearby, has been burned (and since then eroded in a way unlike the other weathered poles). The variation on the story that I heard first, and which therefore sticks loudest in my mind, is that a number of Dididaht from the west coast of Vancouver Island (near Nitinat Lake) came ashore from a sealing schooner that was bound to or from the sealing grounds in Bering Sea. They set the village afire in retribution for something they believed the Haida had done to their people. Fortunately it only burned a couple of the houses. I don’t think the village was occupied at that time.

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  10. Ehpem. I have goosebumps. What an AMAZING place! You’ve done a wonderful, wonderful job with your documentation in this series, and specifically this post, in bringing the history and wonder of this awesome place to the world. Your entire catalog of images and the stories that surround them in this series have been a real joy for me to visit on a daily basis as you’ve been rolling this series out, and I can only hope that many more people follow us to your site and come away with both a deeper understanding, as well as a strong sense of the natural drama of this glorious place. I tip my hat to you, good sir.

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    • Toad – what a wonderful comment! Thanks so much, it is great to hear that my images are so much appreciated. The Haida Gwaii trip was great, and in many ways taking photos of the kind that people might want to see (rather than technical documentation) was very much secondary to being there, so I was glad to find I have some useable images for a general audience.

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    • I should add that is a mortuary pole. A chief or other high ranking person would have been buried in a box in the cavity at the top of the pole. Most of these poles are mortuary or memorial poles – these were the ones that the Haida would not allow to be removed to museums in the 1950’s and 1960’s when an attempt was made to preserve this monumental art from the elements by placing them in museums. This was done in consultation with the Haida, but is not likely the kind of thing that would be agreed to today. In any case, for those of you that cannot get to this location, you can find some of the poles from this place at the Royal BC Museum here in Victoria, and also at the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.

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  11. I have never been there but these pictures movingly convey the mystery and sadness of this wonderful site. The poles speak for themselves and monochrome seems right for them. Val

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    • Hi Valerie – thanks for the comment. I struggled with the image processing for this post until I tried super contrasty dark black and white then it seemed to convey what I wanted. As did the contrast of keeping Jordan in colour.

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