Although my role aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion this month has been to survey the biological diversity of the Inside Passage and communicate a message of conservation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide a few images from our time exploring the region’s indigenous cultures.  From the Coast Salish people of Puget Sound and the Kwakwaka’wakw of northern Vancouver Island, to the Haida of Haida Gwaii (formerly, the Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Tlingit of Southeast Alaska, they invited us into their homes (quite literally) to experience their vibrant cultures and traditions first hand.  It has been so encouraging that, despite a history of exploitation, disease and egregious mistreatment, there is a thread of hope and optimism that is interwoven into their stories and a clear sense that a great cultural revival is underway. 

Since 1981, Haida Watchmen have guarded traditional village sites throughout Haida Gwaii.  The message they shared with us was at times somber, yet prideful and optimistic, and offered a window into a rich culture expressed through art and dance. 

Mortuary poles, such as these in SGang Gway - a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the remote south western tip of Gwaii Haanas - marked the graves of chiefs, while frontal poles identified a village’s inhabitants and stood ready to meet warring tribes. 

A young Kwakwaka’wakw dancer at a Big House in Alert Bay is an encouraging example of the cross-generational cultural revival occurring all along the west coast.

Killer whale enters the gukwdzi through the front door, a surprise gift from the sea offered by a powerful chief at a potlatch.  Land and sea play important roles in the traditions of all of the First Nations’ people along the inside passage.   

Comment