Wow…what can I even begin to say and share with you regarding my recent trip to Haida Gwaii and the residency in Gwaii Haanas National Park, Marine Reserve and Haida Heritage Site? I’ll start just by sharing some works I created onsite in Gwaii Haanas and some thoughts about current context.
You have to understand the remoteness of this place. It’s a 20 hour, two day FULL drive from Canmore, AB – first on the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and then through the winding Yellowhead Highway country, though Prince George, along the banks of the Fraser and Skeena River systems, through the Pacific Coastal Mountains to the Port of Prince Rupert.
From there, it’s a 7 hour ferry ride, just to get to the island of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) and just in view of the shores of Alaska from it’s northern coast. And that’s just the first part of the journey! Epic in itself, just to get to Haida Gwaii.
From there, our group of five departed from Skidegate, another ferry ride from Skidegate to Alliford Bay and then through an hour and a half of potholed logging roads that you could swallow your truck, and humping gear over an “outed” bridge to the marine departure point at Deer Bay, Moresby Camp. Not a journey for the faint of heart!
Departing Moresby Camp, it was an hour long trip by boat on the trusty BC forestry services boat, the “Adelita” to our floating camp at the Bischof Islands in Gwaii Haanas. These waters are the fourth most dangerous in the world. Enough said, I suppose…
Using the Bischof Islands as our base, we headed out to many different locations in Gwaii Haanas. I created several works onsite where time and equipment landing would permit. I also worked on the boat, in watercolour creating sketches as we travelled the long distances between points. I’ll share those in a later posting with you.
The only communications in this area is by marine radio or satellite phone, both of which are sketchy at the best of times. When not sketching or painting, I spent a great deal of time in visual observation and in photography. There is never enough lifetimes to begin to paint what I have seen or experienced, but here is a short “bite” for those who are so eager to see what I did when I was there.
Athlii Gwaii – Sedgwick Bay Camp
This painting was done onsite at Sedgwick Bay, Athlii Gwaii (Lyell Island) where in the autumn of 1985, a group of Haida elders travelled by helicopter to engage in one of the first direct action efforts of first nations across the land. Conflicting interests that pit first nations against industrial development reached a boiling point. The Haida Elders created a line between the ancient rainforests and old growth cedar and spruce and the forestry companies that held timber licenses. Four Elders stood on the line at Lyell. Please see the clip below of excerpts from Urban Rez’s production of “Athlii Gwaii – The Line at Lyell”, exclusive footage from that time features touching interviews with elders; Ada Yovanovich and Adolphus Marks. Contemporary interviews were conducted with the Elders Ethel Jones and Watson Pryce in 2002. They shared their memories of that trying time. Sadly all four Elders have passed on but their act of selfless devotion to their beloved Haida Gwaii should be an inspiration to us all.
Visiting this place was a great inspiration for me. I would say it was one of the most stirring and inspiring moments of my visit. It was pouring down buckets that day, but I could hear the Elders and the protestors, firm in their convictions and in their hearts. Their spirits were all around me. There was even an old Chinese Checkers game still left in the main cabin. I sat in the doorway for a very long time, imagining what it might have been like for them all, to make a stand, bind together and speak out for what was right, not just for themselves, but for everyone.
I am grateful that the Haida Nation, these Elders and young warrior members stood so firmly to protect this place. We should do the same now, as the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project by Enbridge threatens once again, this magnificent culture and ecosystem in which we are all so interconnected. Stand up and speak out about the effects that this pipeline will have on habitat, culture and the ecology of our planet. Write your MP and the official opposition. If you are international, write your own governments and let them know that this is an issue for all people.
Make yourself heard…and be part of the new “Line”. Do the right thing.