Dorking & District u3a’s own Geoff Saunders speaks from personal experience of the Haida People of North America, whose history precedes the arrival of European settlers by thousands of years.
The Haida are one of Canada’s First Nations whose home centred on a group of islands off the coast of British Columbia, close to the Alaskan border. They have an oral history stretching back perhaps 10,000 years. Their islands were one of the few places in North America to escape the last glaciation.
Initial contact with Europeans was positive for both parties, developing into a mutually profitable trade in furs and metal goods. Haida wealth enabled a great artistic explosion, most visible in what we know as ‘totem poles’. You have probably wondered at them in the British Museum.
After many decades of mutual benefit, smallpox reached the islands with devastating results. Maybe 90% of the population perished. Efforts by the Canadian Federal Government to assimilate the First Nations resulted in further disasters. But a cultural revival has been under way for some years, and a rediscovered past is helping to guide the future of the islands and people.
Travelling to the islands, now known as Haida Gwaii, could be simple: there are daily air services to two tiny airports. But for a more reflective journey, the speaker travelled via rail, bus and coastal ferry. Then for two days in an open boat to reach the very heart of Haida culture, the World Heritage site at SGang Gwaay, a small island deep in the National Park, called Gwaii Haanas in the local language, Place of Wonder. For any traveller, surely a suitable destination?