Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Canadian islands, where totem poles are a living art

Photographs and Text by Catherine Porter
In 1884, the Canadian government outlawed potlatches, the public ceremonies that formed the basis of the Haida legal and political system. Because totem poles were intricately tied to potlatches, the ban essentially spelled the end of poles. The ban was finally lifted, and in 1969 the first new monumental totem pole in almost a century was raised ceremoniously in Haida Gwaii.
Haida Gwaii, this cluster of islands 70 miles off the northwest coast of Canada, was once known for its totem poles, tall and regal, like the temples of Angkor Wat. In 1862, a smallpox epidemic wiped out most of the 10,000 to 30,000 members of the Haida Nation living here. Many of the totem poles that adorned and surrounded their long houses were carted off by collectors and museum curators. During my visit to the village, I heard that Mr. White, a well-known argillite carver, was working on a new totem pole — his fifth. When I dropped by his work shed, his son Vernon was chipping away at it. [More]
This pole will be huge — 51 feet long, with an additional 11 feet in the ground. It came from a 600-year-old red cedar that Mr. White, a well-known argillite carver, picked out.